I spent years trying to persuade my company to set up an ideas and suggestions system. Ten years ago there was a one room office, and I could send ideas to my boss. He would always look at my random suggestions (and he must have been fed up with getting them) but a few ideas did get implemented. Then the years passed and the company grew and grew… My boss was busy managing six offices full of people, and my line manager only liked ideas about our department. There was nowhere for general ‘this might work’ ideas. This drove me nuts!
Ideas are free, everyone has them, they can be bad, indifferent, good or amazing… And do you know the best way to find a good idea? Have lots of ideas! Ideas are powerful, ideas are my favourite thing, and a good idea can change the world!
So I was happy when my company finally set up ‘The Innovation Hub,’ an online place to harness the free resource of their thousands of idea-generating staff. I was even more thrilled when they realised how useful it was and invested millions in innovation.
So what’s all this got to do with the council? Well a small post on a Facebook page just got me really excited. The post used my favourite word ideas! Canterbury City Council (yes, a council!) have this thing called ‘Ideas Lab.’ It’s a workshop in January for people to help the council with income generating ideas.
The document detailing this starts with the problem to fix – and it’s a big one.
‘The ‘age of austerity’ has taken its toll on Canterbury, we have already had to find £4m of savings in the last four years. ‘
Uh oh. No one likes cuts! The presentation goes on…
‘The autumn statement made it clear that from 2020 we will not be able to rely on central grants to fund services – placing additional pressure on council budgets. ‘
Great, more cuts..!
‘It is our ambition to achieve financial self-sufficiency by finding alternative income, as well as potential savings, to offset the loss of this funding and maintain service delivery levels. To help achieve this goal, we will need to generate additional income by 2020.’
That s pretty sensible. So, how?
‘We are already challenging all our services to reduce costs, but it won’t be enough. So we are asking people to help us be more creative and generate ideas on how we could generate income. We are talking with a wide range of people including residents, businesses, parishes, community groups, partners and suppliers – everyone we do business with and for.’
So, the council has told us about a problem. I like honesty… They’ve said what they’re doing. Good…. And they’re open to offers of help. I like this best, because we are all in this together. We need important council services supported, and so of course I am willing to help.
Ideas to generate income are needed because these days councils can set up any money making enterprise.
I will admit I had reservations when I heard about the changes of the Localism Act, this act allows councils set up any business venture. If it’s a business that you or I could run, then the council is allowed to run it too. It seemed worrying to me that a council might set up a chain of hairdressers, and use its massive promotional power to create profitable council-run hairdressers… in the meantime putting every independent hairdresser out of business! So I think they do need to be careful with this income-generating plan. But that’s another reason why it’s good that they’re involving people from the start. There might be a hairdresser in the Ideas Lab meeting saying, ‘Hang on a minute..!’
The Ideas Lab will showcase ideas that other councils have used, and from what I’ve heard about all this there are some clever, and responsible, enterprises out there. There is no reason why the council couldn’t generate income and also improve tourism, or generate income by adding features to services they already operate.
So, this is Canterbury Council realising that ordinary people might care to get involved. I don’t have any amazing ideas yet, but I’ll try to think of some. Even if the ideas people come up with aren’t much good I still think people will appreciate being involved in this way.
Council’s get an awful lot of bad press, but if they inform people what they’re doing and give them a say things work better. It’s like any relationship, it’s better with listening, involvement, and a date night once a month.*
It took ten years to get the Innovation Hub set up at work, it’s taken this new council just six months to realise that ideas matter. I read about the Ideas Lab on the excellent Campaign for Democracy in Canterbury District facebook page. If you’re interested in participating contact Haroon Awan on firstname.lastname@example.org. I believe there will also be ways to participate online.
I hope some bright ideas get found and we can help the council make some much needed cash.
*That might just be me.