Co-operating for change

Last week I attended two important conferences on the future of local government.

Firstly, the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) Annual Conference in Llandudno brought together Council Leaders from across Wales to discuss the challenges facing public services in Wales and, more importantly, some potential solutions.

The most high-profile proposal on the table is local government reorganisation. Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Local Government and Government Business, made clear that local authority mergers are going to happen and that a map of the new boundaries will soon be published, with a likely reduction in numbers from 22 to 10 or perhaps 12 as outlined in the Williams Commission report  earlier this year.

As for timescales, the indications are that Councils will be encouraged to merge voluntarily, and for those that do, they will hold elections in 2018. For Councils that choose not to follow this path, elections will take place along the lines of the current boundaries in 2017, with mergers implemented at a later date.

There was some debate at the Conference on whether a reorganisation can deliver the economies of scale and savings that would be needed. The discussion has so far mainly centred on boundaries and potential merger costs, both important issues which require further clarification, but there is a growing consensus that the immediate focus must be on how to respond to the more pressing funding challenges faced by Councils in Wales over the next few years.

Even before any mergers can take place, Cardiff City Council will have to reduce its budget by over £90m over the next three years, in addition to around £120m that has already been cut over the past five. If these kind of figures are to be achieved, it will require substantial changes to the number and nature of services currently provided by the Council.

That’s why we have launched the Cardiff Debate, a three year programme of events and consultation on the future of public services in our city. The Cardiff Debate will visit your local areas to discuss priorities for the city so if you want to get involved, or stay updated, you can follow us on twitter. Alternatively have a look at our Facebook page. 

In Cardiff, as I’ve touched on in previous blogs, we have set ourselves the challenge of becoming a much more ‘Co-operative Council’ at the heart of a well networked international capital city.

Put simply, as a Co-operative Council we will need to develop new ways of working which enable us to work more closely and in an equal partnership with our city’s residents and other partners in the future.

That’s why events, such as the second conference I attended last week in Plymouth, are so important and why it is proving very useful to share experiences amongst other member councils in the network. During a series of themed workshops, such as co-operative energy projects, we heard about successful initiatives taking place right across the United Kingdom, including several collective energy switching schemes (including Cardiff’s own CYD Cymru initiative), which have been one of a number of ways in which councils have helped residents cut their high energy bills.

Other examples include the new Plymouth Energy Community Co-operative which raised over £650,000 from local residents and investors a year ago and is now using this funding to help the city reduce its energy use by putting solar panels on buildings and giving support and advice to people struggling with their bills.It was a timely discussion, as my Cabinet will be considering a report next month on how we can fully explore the potential for renewable energy generation in our own city in the years ahead. More on that next month!

I blogged in April about the exciting news that fast-growing US cyber-security firm Alert Logic has chosen to establish their Headquarters for Europe, the Middle East and Asia in Cardiff.

Meeting David Howorth & Marty McGuffin from Alert Logic

Meeting David Howorth & Marty McGuffin from Alert Logic

This week, the company established their base in one of the City Council’s technology spaces, part of an expansion that will ultimately see around 130 people employed in their Central Enterprise Zone office.

For me, this investment is a clear demonstration that Cardiff has the skilled people and right environment to attract the best global companies.Marty McGuffin, Senior Vice President of Global Operations for Alert Logic, told me that above all else, what has impressed him most are the people the company have been able to employ in Cardiff. As Marty put it:

“We have been impressed with the level of talent we have found in Cardiff for all the different roles we have available, and have been in the enviable position of being able to choose the very best to join us.’