More to easyCouncil than name suggests?

4 Feb 2010 by Karl Hallam

The idea of local authorities adopting a budget airline, no frills approach has been around for a year or so now and originates from Conservative controlled Barnet. It's been labelled easyCouncil and the image that conjures up is not exactly positive, particularly for anyone interested in making the business case for local government (Work Cadence are involved in for LGYH). A profile of the ex-Leader of Barnet in the Society section of the Guardian this week made good reading, because the shorthand has perhaps masked some of the more interestng features of the approach. While the 'relentless drive for efficiency' is what one might expect to see, the focus on families with multiple needs catches the eye. The article goes on to highlight some problems Freer faced as Leader that demonstrate that nothing is ever that easy in local government.

Mike Freer describes himself as the "architect" of a new Conservative concept on the local government block, easyCouncil. And he thanks the media for coining the term. "When you say easyCouncil, people get it," says the former leader of Barnet council in north London. "It's terrific shorthand."

The proposals for a radical new local government model of delivery that does not automatically provide blanket coverage of services, and which forges what Freer has called "a new relationship with citizens", came under the media spotlight last summer, 18 months after he and colleagues in Barnet first started working on the Future Shape of the Council document. In a nutshell, he says it is about "making the public sector work efficiently and eventually getting out of the way".

Manchester-born Freer, 49, now the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, Margaret Thatcher's old manor, reveals some tough intentions behind a policy seen as a possible blueprint for local government under a Tory government.

Barnet council's proposals for a major restructuring of service delivery, which brought him to national attention, is three-pronged. While the media, he says, focused just on the "easyJet model" of service delivery, based on the no-frills budget airline that charges customers extra for services once considered part of the standard fare, the second strand relates to streamlining and merging back-office functions of various public sector bodies to cut costs and ­create "one public sector" or organisation in an area - for example, higher and further education linking with local government and health. Other ideas in this vein include a "common database" on individuals that would prevent people being approached time and time again by "different arms of the state".

The third aspect relates to "targeted intervention" for families with complex needs, who cost the council dearest ... continues here


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