The complexity conundrum

By John O'Brien | 30 August 2020

Going back three or four decades, I was never very good at trying to solve the puzzle of the Rubik’s Cube. Just how do you get all of those blocks of colour to line up simultaneously? I suspect quite a lot of us are feeling similarly about the challenges of the next six months.

Having had the starter of the planning White Paper a few weeks ago, we are now, in short order, promised a recovery and devolution White Paper that could be a significant catalyst for wider sectoral change, a Spending Review and finance settlement that could be pivotal for the financial viability of many, further reflections on the not insignificant issue of the future of business rates – which existing policy still has as a critical component of local government’s financial future – and the future of adult social care. Changes to the latter could, on their own, dramatically alter the landscape of local government service delivery and financing.

If that was not enough complexity for you, we have the existential variables to think about – the economic scarring resulting from COVID-19 so far, the degree to which that may be exacerbated by potentially reaching the end of the Brexit transition period at the end of 2020 without a meaningful agreement with the EU and, of course, the potential for further spikes in the virus.

All of which is highlighted not to cast blame or express frustration, even if feeling some of it may be appropriate, but to recognise the nature of the overlapping challenges we face is huge.

We know it would be naïve to expect a perfectly clear thread running through all of that sequence from Government.

We also know that such is the uncertainty surrounding the economy and the future trajectory of COVID-19, no one is going to be able to navigate the next period with perfect foresight.

It is not unreasonable, however, to expect that some clear line of sight is established between all of these events and interventions as they unfold.

The role of the sector in renewing our places and contributing to tackling the big national challenges we all face needs to be at the heart of this from the outset, not something that is retrofitted afterwards.

It is going to be quite a six months!

John O’Brien is chief executive of London Councils

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