23 october 2010, salami slice or restructure ?

Although this is about the local "here", the need to learn from the local "there" hopefully provides interest to my (mainly) non little england readers. Though more complex, local government here is essentially losing around a quarter of its income, making the need to cut costs drastic. Of course this has been long-known, and 3 london authorities, have already gone quite far down the road to keeping all their separate political structures and identities, but having a single set of people supporting them and providing services. Is this the way to go ? Those authorities have a combined population of some 600k: larger than the uk's largest single authority (manchester's range from 182 to 483k), but much less than broader city areas (manchesters' totalling 2,600k). There are 2 factors: what is the most efficient size for such a unit (from the perspective of both cost and, let's call it, social capital); and what do people want. There is much literature on the first question, and the answer to the second is it depends who you ask and how you ask them (this is absolutely brilliant). The real answer to the question is the balance between bulking up - which improves outcomes and reduces costs, through economies of scale, transparency, lesser ability to protect inefficient local connections and better practice transfer, and keeping it small enough to avoid the tragedy of the commons, when people become so removed from the community that they act solely as rational and selfish individuals even when such action is clearly contrary to the broader community's interests. A starting point for greater manchester is that political change is a nightmare. However, there are many ways to change other things that would vastly reduce costs for everyone. With hugely far sighted intention, the political leadership has already asked whether it's "better to do things 10 times over or do it once, and save on administrative costs but still deliver the same service to the public ?", and how soon we rise to that challenge will determine whether we create tomorrow's landscape, or become its victims.