Rather fortuitously my latest Meetup trip came at the same time as an interesting and highly relevant announcement from Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, who yesterday released a document that encourages local councils to look at ways for making savings.
Titled '50 ways to Save'one idea, point 47, caught my attention.
47. Hire out the town hall: For example, Sutton Coldfield Town Hall in Birmingham City Council can be booked for weddings and civil partnerships, conferences, meetings and theatre productions.
The proposal really stuck out because as you can see it does not talk about reducing spending or cuts to services, and more importantly it goes nowhere near that old Conservative edict of privatisation. Instead it talks about efficiency. It says, quite simply, let's make more of what we have. Let's make an honest assessment of the use of our resources and where buildings are underused let's find new ways to generate income through them.
Indirectly, point 47 also urges a new appreciation for the very reason that these buildings were first built, the local community. It argues that people from the local community should be given greater access to the community buildings for uses they are interested in (ostensibly not local council meetings).
Where does technology and my latest meetup visit come into this?
The meetup I attended yesterday brought together a group of tech entrepreneurs under the banner of 'Wikinomics- Collaborative Consumption', an economic movement that essentially focuses on using technology to remove barriers of entry to established market places. This ensures that small suppliers can compete fairly with large suppliers.
A good example of this trend is BlaBlaCar which provides a tool for individuals to hire out seats in their car when they themselves are making a long journey, providing a platform to compete with more established transport methods, and making use of wasted resource i.e. empty seats.
Beyond personal finances, we can use this same technology to provide local councils with the tools to maximise use of their resources and make it easier for local communities to access buildings that were, after all, built for them. Thus answering the challenge set out by My Pickles.
I am happy to say that the tech community has already picked up this baton and there are a growing number of small start-ups in David Cameron's Tech City developing services that answer this challenge.
For instance at Hire Space we are working with local councils and schools to provide them with a free tool to hire out their facilities at times when they would otherwise go unused. So a local business can hold a conference in their local school and a local artist can exhibit in their local town hall.
And it's not just us. Around the corner Parkatmyhouse are working with churches and private home owners so that they can hire out empty parking spaces.
From this recent announcement, it seems the Coalition has been alerted to this opportunity to increase council incomes without cutting services and more importantly without selling off assets.
What's needed now is direct action on the part of the government department to support the uptake of these technologies. Hire Space is seeing increasing demand and is working with a number of Greater London's local councils, but further encouragement is needed, as are assurances that increasing income from these resources will not lead to a decrease in central government funding.
We, the Collaborative Consumption world, look forward to working with you Mr Pickles.