Last month’s LGA Conference showcased localism, and especially the challenges facing local government in shaping new public services more appropriate to a changing and ageing population, and at a time of budgetary constraint. In particular, it launched the publication of a report from the Commission on the Future of Local Government which espoused ideas – albeit at a local level – which read uncannily like the themes adopted by the Age Action Alliance.
‘It is civic entrepreneurs who permeate businesses, communities, councils and charities who change cities and towns for the better’. It confronted the managerialist, formulaic and hierarchical partnership approach (which too often produces meetings and policy papers rather than action) with a vision of civic entrepreneurs who enable and support the work of others. We need a new culture which develops distinctive ambitions, common working values and sharply focussed actions. We need to draw upon everyone’s contributions with the imagination to see how to engage them constructively, and work together to fashion a better future.
It noted how business and housing growth had the potential to produce new revenues through business rates and council tax. This seemed a clear message that councils need to look to the economic growth agenda, working to help enterprises to thrive and to do so with a socially responsible approach to employment and economic well-being.
Looking back to nineteenth century local government giants like Joseph Chamberlain and Joseph Rowntree, the report called for a new 21st century infrastructure. Ultra-fast broadband, low carbon energy, housing for older people (of the type they want to live in, and which promotes their independence) and smart transport systems take the stage from the historic achievements with clean water, sewers, public health and electricity. But with older people being prominent players in the years ahead (as we learned from the ONS projections released this month), it is vital that we design and provide these new services in a way that works for older people.
The ageing population was also a driver of its call to devise a new social contract. The relationship between the citizen and the state needs modernising to rebuild trust, and of course to put into the equation the private sector which is increasingly involved in public services. We need to help, and support, more people in work, to be more productive, and to make positive choices. Where once people were prepared to be told what to do and put up with what they got, we have moved into a new world.
The Commission has also worked with others on developing a number of commitments to action – it is not all mere theory. The CBI commits to promoting the positive role business can play in civic leadership, and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to leading and championing an integrated care system focused on prevention, civic enterprise and partnership. The National Association for Voluntary and Community Action will identify and champion great examples of civic enterprise and civic entrepreneurs, and the JRF will conduct further research on the needs of citizens in deprived areas and how society and the state can work together for the common good.
Not just with this report, the whole LGA Conference was suffused with the messages about collaborative working. Community budgets offer the opportunity for developing joined-up services which can reduce costs and will improve services – all they lack is a wilful individual with enough good partners and access to relevant expertise to drive them forward. That’s not going to happen overnight, but it has got to start somewhere, and we need to recognise the right players and encourage the right partners to start working together.
The question asked constantly at different voluntary sector conferences is ‘how do we find more volunteers’? The answer is have you asked them to volunteer – and offered them a job they would be pleased and satisfied to do? That is where we need to take the Alliance next, and to build on the goodwill and common values which were part of the Alliance’s core message, and now seem to be permeating through local government.