Let the Games Begin: NLGN Policy Summit 2012
Joe Manning, Senior Researcher, NLGN, 11 December, 2012

“Welcome to AnyBorough. The council faces a tough challenge over the next five years. Your role will be crucial in helping meet our spending priorities.” This was the message that greeted two dozen council chief executives and directors at NLGN’s recent Policy Summit. Their task was to scenario plan for the next Spending Review.

To help facilitate the discussion we created Anyborough Council, a fictional unitary authority in the South West of England, complete with detailed spending data. We also scoped out a set of local characteristics, including a large local employer, Mike’s Motors, and a property portfolio, including a disused theatre and the town’s football ground.

Over a 24 hour period, hidden away from distraction in rural Staffordshire, attendees got to grips with the financial demands and strategic priorities of AnyBorough. They were tasked with setting three separate budgets across three rounds. As cuts began to bite, Anyborough’s senior management team were subject to expert challenge, press feedback and ‘pain points’. Two ‘dungeon masters’, decisions very much final, made sure that everyone followed the game’s rules.

The premise of the exercise was that despite the excellent work of local authorities in managing the current spending review, there is a much tougher squeeze yet to come. There are no more quick wins and radical thinking is required. The fictional AnyBorough was designed to bring this reality home.

The game format allowed attendees to analyse key decision making points, articulate the areas of service delivery that were most vulnerable, and develop transformational ideas for meeting the spending challenges.

Social services and education accounted for the majority of Anyborough’s expenditure, as they do for most authorities. Therefore, it quickly became apparent that drives for across the board efficiency, sharing services, and outsourcing highways or leisure would not get the council far beyond 2015. Anyborough needed to deal with its big ticket spending items.

Our analysis of how the teams budgeted for 2018 will be published in the Spring. In the mean time we will continue the conversation through a series of roundtables scheduled for early next year. It is time to take the game, and Anyborough, on the road. We hope you can join us.