In the current political climate, it is often said that “we’re all localists now”. In Cheshire West and Chester this is a reality and there is strong support on all sides for a future which places more power and responsibility in the hands of our citizens and communities.
Formed as a new council in 2009 we were determined to be a new type of council with localism at its core. For us, it’s about the five Cs:
Communities: We have forged strong relationships with local communities and are tailoring services in line with local aspirations. Our council is structured in line with four localities, we are building comprehensive neighbourhood plans and we are continuing to develop a thriving voluntary and community sector to play a greater role in public service delivery.
Collaboration: We recognise that we cannot afford to operate in a world of fragmented public services which don’t make any sense to our residents. Our Altogether Better programme – known nationally as a whole place community budget – has identified over £100 million of savings to local services over the next five years with the transformation of service delivery by reducing duplication and getting services right first time. In addition, we are expanding our shared services with a number of neighbouring councils.
Commissioning: We take the view that what matters most to local people are outcomes, i.e. actions being delivered. We have to find new ways of securing those outcomes and be open-minded about the best way to deliver services. New approaches like public service mutuals are being rolled out in Adult Social Care and all services are being reviewed to ensure they are best placed to meet the challenges of the future.
Commerce: We are supporting a dynamic local economy working with businesses and developing a huge expansion of apprenticeships, more locally focused training, and a significant programme of capital
investment. Sharing the proceeds of this success will be crucial to maintaining this momentum.
Courage: All of this requires courageous leadership – being prepared to challenge how we do things, not dragging our heels and not waiting for permission from Whitehall. We also need to be prepared to have a grown up conversation about the responsibilities that individuals and communities have themselves – the council doesn’t have all the answers.
By definition you can’t really legislate for localism, but the biggest lever national government has to accelerate this agenda is finance – not how much we get but how funding is allocated and who is accountable. I would like to see the next Government adopting radical plans for place-based settlement with a spending review based on places rather than Government departments.
Imagine the transformational impact if all local leaders had to co-operate, focus on what was required for residents and had clarity on the funding they had available over a five year period, alongside more flexibility to invest in local priorities. A win-win situation is possible – a reinvigoration of local democracy, an ability to make scarce public money go further, stronger growth, and better outcomes for local people.
This piece appears as part of a collection of essays on the future of local government collated by the New Local Government Network.