Commercialisation in local government is very often seen as a “necessary evil”. For many organisations, it has negative connotations both internally and for service users.
Employees, citizens and even politicians and leaders don’t like the thought of services, assets, buildings and property being “sold off”. But we all know it’s about much more than that. Austerity is still alive and well – and for local government organisations to continue to be viable and serve their citizens, they need to make smart and beneficial partnerships with local businesses and commercial entities.
At Local Government Partnership Network back in December, Grant McKelvie, Director of Commercial Business at Coventry City Council, led an interactive session on commercialisation. He noted that within his own organisation, there had often been a varied response.
When the session was turned over to the delegates to discuss with their tables their thoughts and experiences around commercialisation, the response was that many often found it difficult to balance commercialisation initiatives with the political element. They were quick to emphasise that it is not just about the financials, but should be focused on the social purpose too.
With that in mind, we’ve taken a look at 3 examples of how councils in England are driving and promoting commercialisation projects to bring social and economic benefits to their areas.
Free WiFi access
Camden Council have introduced a network of free WiFi access in areas with high footfall. Once registered, users get 30 minutes of free internet access to use online council services and access other vital resources. The commercial part comes in after the 30 minutes – once their time is up, users get the option to purchase extra time. Through this programme, Camden are making better economic use of council-owned assets whilst significantly improving wireless network connectivity in the area, making it somewhere more people will want to visit. As part of their objectives set out in the Camden Plan, the council have committed to making the borough “a place where everyone has the chance to succeed and no one gets left behind”. The income from the programme is used to invest in and support digital innovation in local businesses and tackle digital exclusion.
What we learn
Investing in the digital economy of your area is vital in today’s society. Digital exclusion is a real problem and the digital divide still needs to be closed. In 2018, it was estimated that 8% of people in the UK (around 4.3 million) had zero basic digital skills.
Not having the resources or the basic technical skills to be able to access the internet and vital online services can make thriving in today’s society very difficult. Through their programme, Camden are not only providing vital access to the digitally excluded, but are also able to reinvest profits into growing in the digital skills of the community as a whole.
Broadland District Council (Norfolk)
Passivhaus property development
In a joint venture with NPS Group branded Broadland Growth, Broadland District Council in Norfolk have invested in mixed residential developments across the region. With an emphasis on good quality and affordability, the houses are built to certified Passivhaus standards. Passivhaus is a voluntary standard for energy efficiency, and results in ultra-low energy buildings.
Their initial 14 home development “Carrowbreck Meadow” in Hellesdon has won several awards, including the RIBA East project award, an RTPI award for excellence in planning, and the DEFRA award for rural housing. More recently they have completed the development of 22 homes – 36% of which are affordable housing. They are committed to a minimum of 10% profit on costs of the development which will all be returned to the public purse to be invested in more development for the local area.
What we learn
Property and land is one of the most lucrative and popular aspects of commercialisation. While some councils choose to sell off existing assets or property for domestic or commercial use, others (including Broadland) are investing in creating new housing developments which not only provide affordable, quality housing to the area but are also low-energy.
Not only does this benefit current constituents, it can also aid in attracting new residents to the area – making Broadland a desirable place to live for more people. One of their developments made it onto Grand Designs back in 2017 – which certainly gave interest in the homes a massive boost!
Warrington Borough Council
Creating a commercial culture
Warrington Borough Council are focusing on empowering their staff to innovate by offering half-day commercial skills training courses for employees. The courses are suitable for employees at various points in the commercialisation journey – whether they are yet to adopt any commercial approaches or are looking to expand their current knowledge and drive further improvement. Topics include; how to cost up your service, how to price up a product/service, market intelligence, how to gather customer feedback, tendering and procurement and marketing.
What we learn
Creating a culture in which commercialisation is not only accepted and understood but allowed to thrive and continually improve is key to success of any initiative. Through encouraging employees to think more commercially, Warrington are bringing them into the vision and empowering them to drive their own success and contribution to the council’s profitability.
Through bringing together local government senior leaders and suppliers at Local Government Partnership Network, we aim to create a space where councils can collaborate and innovate to find new ways that commercialisation initiatives can bring social and economic benefits to their communities. Register your interest in a free delegate pass for Local Government Partnership North, 9th-10th June 2020 at Oulton Hall, here.