News and Comment

Unlocking local capacity – local authority entrepreneurship

Monday 20 February 2012

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This is the latest in a series of posts in anticipation of new research from OPM about what local government can do to unlock local capacity. To find out more about the free evening seminar on Tuesday 21 February where the research will be launched, click here.

Across the country local authorities are engaged in massive change. On one hand they are seeking to balance budgets in light of significant changes to their central grant; on the other, they are looking to ‘unlock’ capacity that exists in their locality. This local capacity can take many forms.

Some authorities are looking at ways of enhancing the incomes they can generate from existing services, which can be a relatively straightforward source of additional income given it builds on an existing provision, or situation, as long as care is taken to explain and justify the rationale for any increase. It gets more complicated when charges are introduced for elements of services that are free, and may have been taken for granted, for example, charging for parking in the evening, as proposed in central London, had attracted a lot of attention, and has since been withdrawn.

Total resources

At its heart unlocking local capacity takes a whole local system view of the resources that can be deployed to address issues and meet needs. It builds on the work Total Place began, considering the totality of public expenditure in an area, and the emerging learning of community budgets, looking at total public resources AND starting to explore these resources and the capacity and contribution families can themselves make.

If we accept that the total resources of a place include the public, business and voluntary expenditure in a place, the expenditure of local people, and equally important their activity and effort in their community, from bringing up children to making the most of their library, we can explore further ways of unlocking capacity. We can also include the physical assets of a place, be they owned by the public, private or voluntary sector, as well as natural resources. The following example shows an approach to unlocking capacity by a local authority, taking an entrepreneurial view of a natural asset.

Being entrepreneurial

Stoke on Trent, part of the NESTA Creative Councils programme, has many parks and green spaces, perhaps proportionately as much green space as London. Each year mowing gives rise to over 3,000 tonnes of grass cuttings.

A few years ago this was seen to be something of a liability given the cost of disposal. In the past year someone in the authority has seen a different potential – processing the cuttings in an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant will convert them into bio-gas. This sort of tonnage could produce over 150,000m3 of bio-gas per annum, and with gas trading at $200, $300 or even $500 per 1,000m3 there is potential value to realise.

Many authorities will have natural and other non-public assets that could be unlocked to realise greater benefits for local people and their place. What are yours?