Nine years ago, when austerity measures in the U.K. forced the city of Sefton to slash its budget by 50 percent, a community meals program for vulnerable, mostly elderly, residents was on the chopping block. But then Peter Moore, who led social services for the city, started talking with residents about how — and why — they used the program. That helped him find a way to both keep it and make it better. Gradually it changed the way the whole city worked with lessons that might help budget-strapped cities everywhere.

(Shutterstock/Elena Abrazhevich)

In 2012, Peter Moore was given an unpleasant task nobody working in local government wants. At the time, he ran social services in Sefton, a city of 275,000 in the U.K. near Liverpool. The city could no longer afford to provide its community meals service, which brought daily hot meals to about 350 vulnerable, mainly elderly people. It cost the city about $300,000 per year to administer. The local council asked Moore to cut that cost to zero.

Many families in Sefton were already facing really hard times. Sefton used to be a rich city with a big industrial port…


It may seem like technology will speed processes and improve outcomes, but that isn’t always the case. Here’s why.

In January 2009, we assumed we struck gold. After three years of experimentation we finally reaped real results in our efforts to spread public service innovations across cities. Billions of people around the world got subpar public services, stifling their ability to thrive and, many times, furthering inequities in communities, and we found a way to spread what worked, faster. Our fix: using public procurement, the function governments use to buy goods and services, as a strategic problem-solving tool. Over the next decade we worked to refine this methodology and demonstrate its impact, and eventually tried to productize and scale…


City leaders face unprecedented challenges today. They have to lead in utter uncertainty during times of a pandemic coinciding with economic collapse and an urgent call for civil rights. They have to implement budget and service cuts, tackle a rapidly growing demand for social care and justice and somehow restart their local economy. The good news is that in today’s world, there are many who can lend a helping hand to not just maintain service levels but help rebuild our systems to be more resilient.

Let me propose that you learn about people like Rosanne Haggerty, a social entrepreneur who tirelessly works to end homelessness with over 90 US cities halls. Thirteen of them have graduated to effectively eliminating homelessness. Or Sonya Passi, another social entrepreneur who helps people escape intimate partner violence by helping them become financially self-sufficient. Or Mark Johnson, an ex-offender who by giving users of rehabilitation services a voice empowered them to have agency in their journey back into society. …


Budget cuts are coming, but they don’t have to be painful. In my last of three posts I propose that asking the right questions and working in concert can help cities and towns avoid cuts that will cause suffering for years to come.

Image source: ABCD Institute

I cannot say this often enough: Austerity is not quaint. It is a terrible state of affairs. But austerity can be executed in different ways and in some cases even lead to the creation of stronger communities that suffer less.

Creating and implementing an austerity budget is a process. It involves policy and decision-making about what is important and how to go about executing cuts. When the United Kingdom’s government implemented austerity measures, for example, many youth support programs were shut down and policing was eliminated. The result: an uptick in violent youth crime. The government also attempted absolutely ruinous…


Austerity all too often results in loss: of services, care, and hope. In this second of three posts, we will discuss that austerity can also be a good thing if it’s used as a springboard to community projects that create a more resilient future, fundamentally transforming the relationship between local government and people.

In “ Caring Democracy “ Joan C. Tronto describes the process of care in society in five steps: caring about, caring for, care-giving, care-receiving and caring with. Loss is experienced when government cuts its capacity to care. But the history of austerity has shown that communities can compensate for this loss by rallying together. Leaders can help communities through the stages of loss and grief to turn austerity into action and to develop community assets.

If instead we focus only on loss, we risk producing a downward spiral for public services that are spread too thinly, always on edge, and…


With COVID-19 stripping millions from tax revenue and constituent and healthcare spending soaring, it’s no surprise: Austerity is here. Municipalities in the United States face an immediate need for critical cuts to public services, staff and budgets. In this first of three posts, I will discuss the fact that — while cuts may be painful — austerity isn’t always about loss. By embracing austerity quickly and making it a community project, there will be successes, too.

‘We are not doing this because we want to, driven by theory or ideology. We are doing this because we have to, driven by the urgent truth, that unless we do people will suffer and our national interest will suffer. But this government will not cut this deficit in a way that hurts those we most need to help’ – David Cameron, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2010)

Let me start by saying very clearly: I think austerity is a terrible idea. Cutting spending when public services are needed and the economy needs to be brought back to…


Ohio sent out a rushed email asking vendors to volunteer a 15% cut. Ohio should have taken a moment to read the UK’s well thought-out Procurement Policy Note empowering public buyers to support suppliers and transition with them to the post Covid-19 new normal.

Last week I reported on the Ohio Department of Administrative Services poor attempt to bully its 1,400 vendors into a 15% cut on their contracts. I argued that this was an ethically questionable, legally risky and fiscally poor course of action and proposed that instead of demanding cuts, Ohio should have engaged in a dialogue built on empathy.

A policy treasure hidden behind a so-so title…

Like so many other times, a better course of action was already in the public domain. The UK Government published PPN 04/20 entitled “Procurement Policy Note — Recovery and Transition from COVID-19” to follow up on a earlier note that laid out


Ohio’s Department of Administrative Services asked vendors to take a voluntary 15% cut effective July 1st. This is a regrettable, shortsighted measure. A better way to do this would be to start by asking vendors how they are doing.

The Columbus Dispatch first reported on a letter sent to 1,400 vendors with live contracts with the state department of administrative services (DAS). The proposed cuts are voluntary, although according to the reporting the letter threatens that conformance “will be taken into consideration as we make decisions whether to renew or rebid contracts approaching their end date. If you are in current negotiations regarding a contract or an extension, please keep this request in mind, as well”. There is a lot wrong with this hasty measure.

To an entrepreneur, a lot hinges on the ambiguously framed appeal/threat that DAS offers…


A wealthy city cuts almost everything. How will less privileged districts cope with the fall-out of Covid-19?

Santa Monica is facing a $300 million budget shortfall. When you read the proposed cuts Santa Monica’s bureaucracy has prepared it is a list of hundreds of individual measures amounting to a staggering 23.8% in ‘savings’ including almost 500 staff positions. Cuts reveal what is discretionary: wellbeing, sustainability, performance, culture. It illustrates how hard it will be for cities to hang onto their plans for the future.

Rick Cole, Santa Monica’s high profile city manager for the past five years resigned some weeks ago to ‘lead by example’ — the city manager’s office will be reduced from 66 to just…


Mark Johnson is a social entrepreneur who worked tirelessly to improve rehabilitation over the past decade of austerity in the UK. His story provides instructive insights as to what makes social entrepreneurs special and why we should be wary of the wave of rushed public service reforms that might come our way as governments try to deal with the budgetary fall-out of Covid-19.

I must admit, I have been a huge fan of Mark Johnson ever since I met him through our Ashoka Fellowship. His background couldn’t be further from the startup founders our society all too often glorifies. Mark’s upbringing had no privilege, was marred by domestic violence, followed by addiction, prison and recovery. His bestselling book Wasted is an account of that journey. Without knowing this story, you cannot fully understand the secret sauce of Mark’s approach to prison and rehabilitation reform through his organization User Voice. …

Sascha Haselmayer

Passionate about urban + government innovation, delightful procurement, building civic + entrepreneurial eco-system. Fellow @ New America | Founder/CEO Citymart

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