Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Changes in town centre management - a silver lining?

For some weeks now Welbeck has been exploring the range of difficulties that will impact upon the management of town centres because of funding constraints which are evolving as local authorities gear themselves up for the Government's spending review in the Autumn.

There seems to be a great deal of real worry amongst staff, managers and elected members in councils across the land - here they talk of probable job losses, of retrenchment of programmes and cutting services. Welbeck is not entirely convinced that there is not actually a silver lining in this cloud somewhere - not for any staff losing their jobs, which is an awful experience at any time, but for the town centres and actually, in the longer term, for councils too!

In any period of relative prosperity processes and organisational traits develop in many larger organisations that in more straitened times would not be adopted for reasons of cost. That's not to say that anyone is necessarily guilty of profligacy but if it make life easier, why not take a more costly but eminently affordable route. When the economy hits the buffers then things change, and they change rapidly. The most important thing at that point is to be clear about what is necessary - because it is all to easy to make the opposite mistakes during periods of constraint and the proverbial baby gets ejected with the bath-water.

The challenge now for town centre management schemes and for their managers is to produce the levels of service that you would aspire to in the good times but without the cost implications. The issues for TCMs and their authorities are many, but especially include communications with all stakeholders - from council tax payers (and voters) to businesses and other organisations operating in their areas, especially those with whom they are in some sort of 'partnership' arrangement; they include also the need to support drivers to the local economy; they have myriad legal responsibilities as an authority, alone or in concert with other statutory authorities, which each bring a crop of underlying problems that are aggravated by a reducing expenditure budget. During the past few weeks Welbeck has been undertaking an investigation that is highlighting some interesting conundrums and for which answers may already be at hand. Watch this space, or if you are a local authority or other major town centre stakeholder contact us for a more in-depth conversation.

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