Creating council commercialism - join the discussion


18 November 2013

Council commerciality is on the rise. The pressure on public finance means that alternative sources of revenue — or profit — are increasingly being sought. More and more councils have trading companies, while some have recruited 'commercial directors'. The rise of the 'commissioning council' demands business-like thinking. And, as mutuals spin out, their staff need to adjust to the commercial world in order to survive and succeed.

The issue of councils being commercial can provoke strong feelings. There are some who feel that commerciality is antithetical to public service, and that such thinking has no place in a local authority. Others care less about the potential morality and worry about practicality, doubting whether ingrained public sector organisations will be able to compete in a commercial world. The purpose of this paper is not to comment on the wider merits or demerits, but rather to unpack the notion of 'commercialism' applied to councils and to offer some observations about how the councils that wish to pursue a degree of commerciality may potentially achieve it.

Local government is changing extremely quickly — and our own thinking on this topic is evolving rapidly too. We are issuing this paper because we hope that, as a successful commercial organisation grounded in local government, we have something to contribute. But we are sharing this thought-piece because we would like to stimulate discussion and engage others before we consider a more definitive paper. We're inviting readers to enter into conversation with us about this topic — specific questions are highlighted in the paper — or you can contact jonathan.flowers@capita.co.uk.

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