Just over a year ago I heard Andrea Hill, then chief executive of Suffolk county council, make a presentation about the New Strategic Direction, and decided to revive Wordblog because I believed that what she was doing was wrong.
Her words were very similar to those she used in a controversial speech at the Guardian’s Public Services Summit at about the same time (podcast).
How attitudes seem to have changed. This year Mark Bee, now leader of council, spoke at the same conference. This account comes from Reform, a non-party think tank:
The prevailing mood was humble and reflective. Mark Bee, Conservative leader of Suffolk county council, talked through the painful implosion last year of its ambitious “big society”-style programme for achieving huge savings and service reform. Suffolk’s “new strategic direction” collapsed amid wide public anger, costing both Bee’s predecessor and the council’s chief executive their jobs. “We woke up and smelled the coffee,” said Bee.
At last year’s summit, Suffolk’s then chief executive, Andrea Hill, delivered a robust and in parts controversial prospectus for transforming local government through the new vision. This year, Bee was scathing about its failings. It was a “vision without detail”, a “blunt instrument”, a one-size-fits-all solution pursued too far, too fast, with scant notice taken of what local people wanted. “It did not connect with our communities,” he admitted.
That leaves unanswered the question of why Mark Bee and the bulk of Conservative controlled council voted unquestioningly for all the elements of this “vision without details” for so long.
Perhaps they have not really given up on the New Strategic Direction but are spinning it with soft words. James Hargrave in his blog last week pointed out that by next year some two third of the staff employed by Adult and Community Services (ACS) would be moved to new employers.
His blog post quotes cabinet member Colin Noble justifying this change in words which closely echo some of those used by Andrea Hill a year ago.
The number directly employed in ACS by the council will come down from 3,557 to 895. Hargrave asks: “Have Suffolk County council brought back the ‘new strategic direction’?”