This morning, Westminster City Council will launch its future vision for the city and council; one that moves decisively away from the state knows best model and one that moves away from the state simply delivering a range of services unconditionally. Instead, it sets out an opportunity for residents, communities and businesses to take an active role in the running of their city and in determining its future in return for helping themselves.
At its heart, lies the idea of a Civic Contract between the state and those residents, communities and businesses in the city. The contract sets out what the council will do in return for an agreed set of behaviours and activities. In short, if you help yourself or your community then we will help you. And, for example, if you are business that employs local young people then we will support you. However, it makes clear that those that transgress or break these rules will forfeit their traditional rights to these services. The days of something for nothing are over. It also believes that everyone, whoever they are, has a role to play in making the city a success. From actively seeking a job to learning English for those recently arrived, to local businesses providing opportunities to residents and cleaning up after themselves.
We see this approach being guided by a new sense of civic responsibility, fairness and opportunity. Our principle of responsibility is about recognising the value of public contributions. Our focus on fairness will continue to be on caring for and supporting the neediest in our society because we believe that to be the mark of a civilised society. We will do this by offering our citizens a ladder of opportunity to help them better themselves.
In summary, for our residents and communities the Civic Contracts asks them to:
- Keep their area tidy
- Help vulnerable people in their community
- Stand up against anti-social behaviour
- Learn English and get involved in deciding what the future of the city will look like
- Pay full council tax if they own a second or empty home in the borough
- Take part in running public services such as libraries, parks or care for adults
- Take part in community volunteering and local training if they’re looking for a job
- Understand that the allocation of social housing is linked to responsibility
In return, the council will:
- Target services at those in the greatest need
- Increase the range of affordable housing options open to residents
- Look at prioritising housing to groups who contribute to the wider community such as Special Constables, or those who have volunteered a certain number of hours, or to those who have agreed to foster or adopt
- Ensure that more local schools will achieve academy status
- Provide specialist support for vulnerable job seekers and prepare young people to compete for jobs
- Work with contractors and local developers to create employment opportunities for local people
- Work with families to tackle gang culture and crime
- Remove those from social housing who persistently commit anti-social behaviour, or whose children persistently truant
For businesses the Civic Contract asks them to:
- Contribute to their local area, and help to diversify public services
- Manage the negative impact of their business or industry
- Protect local assets and heritage
- Take on local employees, including more apprentices
In return, the council will:
- Look to target business rate discounts at companies engaged and supporting their area
- Take tough action against businesses that fail to comply with the council’s operating standards and alternatively get out of the way of those good businesses
- Provide support for the “night time economy” such as extra bin collections and licensing enforcement
- Help to provide superfast broadband and other commercial infrastructure
I believe that this Civic Contract has the potential to redefine the relationship between the state at the local level and the citizen and to redefine the future role of local government.
It will rebalance the relationship between state and citizen so that local people, local communities and local businesses have much greater control and say over local services and the sorts of neighbourhoods in which they live and operate including the types of behaviours that they think are acceptable or not. It makes it very clear what the role of the councils is. And it places the council firmly on the side of those hard working families and decent businesses that want to get on and grow whilst abiding by the law and giving something back to their communities.