I was delighted to be asked recently to contribute a piece to LGiU’s 30 birthday celebration work, an imaginative idea that asks 30 people to project what councils may be like in thirty years’ time in 2043. The post is here: http://www.lgiu.org.uk/30birthday-jonathan-flowers/ and is an imagined conversation between two un-named individuals at a mono-bus stop!
In writing the post I was determined to make it be from a citizen perspective rather than that of the council, and I wanted to present something that was a bit different to “now with less money” so I imagined a world in which council services were more consumerised and customised than they are now. In doing that I left out a whole lot of stuff, and left quite a lot to the imagination. I was constrained to three hundred words! Since my piece is generating some actual interest, or, at least, tweets, I thought I’d take the opportunity of my own blog to add a few more words, and perhaps leave less to the imagination. My additional comments are in italics.
“Blooming monobuses, you wait and wait and then three come at once”
I have no idea what a monobus is, but it sounds futuristic!
“Yeah, too right … how you doing in your new flat?”
“It’s alright actually, me and the missus are choosing our council package tonight”
“What are you thinking about getting?”
“Well, obviously we’ll be getting the standard citizen package, and we’ll both be taking the free ID-phones because we don’t mind them knowing where we are if we get a free phone out of it, but we’re thinking about our extras”
It would be a fun exercise to consider what will be in the “standard citizen package” and how the identification of the base package would infuence the way people felt about it. This is potentially the bit that people pay council tax for. It’s also interesting to think about whether the “standard citizen package”, if we were thinking about it in these consumerist terms, is what we will end up with after many more years of cuts – I suspect not. In terms of the narrative behind this dialogue it would be interesting to speculate on whether the “standard citizen package” was re-established after failure of universal services due to the pressures on demand-led ones.
The ID phone notion is intended to prompt a question of how people will feel about their data being used commercially. In this version of reality clearly people are quite relaxed about it, much as we are now relaxed about what facebook knows about us based on content we give it freely. I suspect that if councils – and commercial organisations – were able to use the data provided by mobile phones about peoples’ location and activity then this would generate enough “value” for (many) people to get the phones for free. I think this will either happen or definitively not happen long before 2043, but this was a way of injecting that idea.
“I always go for the health care plus”
I called this “social care plus” in my first draft but someone pointed out to me that “social care” is a label that local government people use so I decided that if it were ever marketed it would more likely have a health label.
“What do you get in that one?”
“Well you get your credits towards the dementia insurance, health checks and double credits for using the leisure centre once a week, so that’s included”
The notion of dementia insurance came to me after hearing Andy Burnham at the LGA saying that the current means-tested funding for elderly social care was essentially a “dementia tax”. The health checks and double credits for staying fit are a quick nod in the direction of incentivised demand management/prevention. Maybe we’ll be sufficiently far-sighted to have free leisure centres by then, though I suspect that people will value it more if they feel they are paying for it.
“Mary gets the dementia insurance credits for us both through her work policy, so we’ll do pay as you go on the leisure centre, but we’re thinking about getting the waste booster”
If we are all insuring ourselves against the costs of dementia in some way then there will probably be many options for that.
The use of the terminology of mobile phone packages is deliberate. It seems to be the way we tend to think of services now: A core “headline price” service to which you get to add things based on your particular need. A form of self-funded personalisation?
I can see a story for local government that finds its core offering reduced and reduced and that the only way of getting more citizen money into the system is to start charging for things individually (unless anyone has the political courage and persuasion skills to convince people that “taxation is the price of admission to a fair society”). If it’s done right, and if it’s done in a way that people recognise and value, it might work. You get your standard citizen package out of your council tax, but extras cost. If councils had to justify the value of those extras, and innovate in how they were provided and packaged to ensure that it was aligned with actual citizen need then that might not be a bad thing – especially if in doing so they got additional resources?
“What does that one get you?”
“Choose the day of the week for collection, though we’ll probably go with the default option to get a discount on that; double collections and a tree at Christmas, unlimited cardboard and they sort your recycling for you”
This is what I would pay more for. As someone said to me though, we’ll probably have automatic recycling separation for everyone long before then.
“That’s just lazy, we get the kids to do ours, to earn their pocket money.”
I put in a mild swear word here which got censored at the suggestion of a colleague!
“Yeah, well we’ve got to decide where to get our advice package from, because we’re going to want help applying for schools, and we’re thinking about putting in an application for a conservatory”
This is building up to the last notion I wanted to insert- the idea that “consumer-led” local authorities might actually compete with each other in some respects. I don’t think we’ll get competition for core services (that standard citizen package again, perhaps) but if we get into a world where advice services are an extra cost, then why wouldn’t I be able to choose where I get that advice from, since location doesn’t really matter? And if I were wanting some professional advice on applying for schools I might prefer to buy it from someone independent but expert – like another local authority?
“What have you narrowed it down to?”
“Well we used to get our advice package from Staffordshire when we lived in the black country, but now that we live in Dalston we’re thinking of getting it from somewhere more local, like Barnet … their app gets 5 stars in the govstore, and it’s only £500 a month”
I am assuming a degree of inflation! And that sterling remains a thing.
“Nice one. ”
What I haven’t commented on in any of this is the strength or otherwise of civic society and social cohesion, the state of local democracy in general, social media, the use of other sectors in service provision and a host of other things that would be relevant and might underly this little dialogue. The ommission doesn’t mean that I think there won’t be any of those things. It meant I had 300 words! And I had a hunch that those areas would be covered by others that LGiU would ask!