The buzz around local government is commercialism. As usual, many officers think they do not know what to do and are awaiting guidance, but they know more than they give themselves credit for. They talk to residents on a daily basis so they do know what the “Customer” wants. What local officers lack is the confidence to adopt a marketing mind-set and they may also suffer from a fear of the unknown.
If commercialism it is to work then it has to be inspired from the top.
Some twenty years ago I was an officer of a London borough and my Chief Executive told me about a recent visit to the swimming pool with his very young child. He forgot to take a replacement nappy with him which resulted in a problem for dad (nappy vending machines are only provided in the ladies changing rooms). He suggested we should provide a vending machine in the male changing room or somewhere that both men and women could reach. Result? Fewer problems for dads with a poor memory and more revenue for the borough.
Another example of a commercial opportunity being recognised and acted upon was the removal of desks from all officers with the title of Inspector since by definition they should be out inspecting. The use of technology meant they could work effectively regardless of location. Today there are still authorities who have not achieved this, so they continue to pay for large areas of expensive, little-used office space while imposing harsh cuts on essential services.
Officers and staff need to feel confident that Leaders will welcome and support commercial ideas and help them develop good business plans with appropriate rigour. They could even take advantage of the business mentoring services offered to start-up businesses by many local authorities!
Public money should not be risked on new commercial projects that are ill-thought through and likely to fail but a logical and well-justified plan will gain support from politicians to implement the proposed action.
With a good commercial attitude, there is hardly a service provided by local authorities that could not be commercialised in some way. For example, local tyre companies could be persuaded to help fund parking control and the costs of traffic wardens. The wardens would be trained to check the tyre tread of the car whilst monitoring parking infractions and, if found to be on or near the minimum limit, could provide an introductory voucher for a tyre change by the sponsor. This approach would reduce the cost of traffic control to the local authority and lessen the sting of a parking ticket to the motorist in the best win-win tradition. For any further advice and support please contact us.