Empowering local communities

‘Re-thinking local’ provides the framework for councils to take their destinies in their own hands and deliver locally focused recoveries.

As we continue to emerge and reopen the country’s economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must prepare for a new normal, different from the past.

This crisis has changed the way we do things, personally and professionally in the public sector, and the speed at which they are done.

People will ask themselves if they want to return to spending hours every day commuting to a large, packed office building. We have all benefited from the improvement in air quality and recognise the importance of accessible green space.

And I am sure, like me, you have all greatly appreciated having local shops within walking distance.

More is now being done online. I recently ‘met’ leaders from the North East and South West and took a webinar, all without leaving my home. While I do miss the personal contact and conversations, I do not miss the two days away that would previously have been necessary.

And as consumers, our habits have shifted, increasing online sales from 20 to 30 per cent in a matter of weeks. We have attended virtual appointments with GPs, solicitors and other professionals, and found them to be much more convenient and accessible in many cases.

Councils are using the web to stay in contact in adult and children’s services, and have seen residents use it to access more of the vital services they need.

All this reflects the immense effort councils across England have made to support their communities. The vulnerable have received food and medicine, the homeless have been found safe places to stay, businesses have received grants to tide them over until they can re-open, and the bins have continued to be emptied.

We have been more agile than Whitehall, delivering new services in days that previously took years, and shown the importance of local delivery – gaining an enhanced reputation for local government.

National government should trust councils to deliver, following our excellent response to the pandemic. Avoiding ‘one size fits all’ solutions by giving them the powers, flexibilities and resources to ensure locally driven recoveries, suited to every community, is the way forward.

There are things we would like to go back to, but there are also changes we should build upon. We need to think this through as we come up with the right local solutions.

In ‘Re-thinking local’, launched last month at the LGA’s first virtual annual conference, we called on the Government, in the upcoming Spending Review and English Devolution White Paper, to provide local leaders with the right fiscal and policy framework to deliver vital, long-term economic transformation.

Ministers should also commit to support our ‘Work Local’ skills programme, empowering councils to develop their own skills and employment plans, tailored to their local areas.

In ‘Re-thinking local’, the LGA offers to bring together all those looking for a long-term solution to the adult social care crisis, to bring about the right funding and proper, locally led integration between health and its wider determinants, such as housing and community.

We want to see all those involved in the delivery of health services, from the NHS and its partners, to councils and health and wellbeing boards, empowered to collaborate on commissioning and planning of place-based plans and neighbourhood delivery to prevent widening health and other inequalities in our communities, particularly as a result of COVID-19.

Building on the effective partnerships and collaborations between councils, schools and other education providers is also a necessity. Government must ensure children and young people have the practical, emotional, education and mental health support they need.

This will prevent more serious issues developing in the future, and ultimately lead to happier outcomes.

These policies will empower local communities and councils to lead in rebuilding and levelling up, while also tackling our society’s most long-standing inequalities. The LGA has consistently argued for this with councils, and the past six months – including our leaders’ responses to the challenges, and the high regard local residents have for their councils – support us.

‘Re-thinking local’ is, however, just the beginning. We will keep gathering the experiences, ideas, and needs of councils up and down the country as we enter this new normal. This will enable us to continue representing everyone across local government, while presenting national government with the best possible insight and input.

It will then be up to the Government to listen, to acknowledge this evidence, and to engage with local leaders on the question of how we build services for the future. Councils will then be able to get on with ensuring the bright future on which we are all relying.

So, thank you for all your hard work over the past six months – saving lives, holding communities together, keeping businesses afloat and showing what local government can do.

What does ‘local’ mean now?

‘Re-thinking local’ is the LGA’s campaign to start the debate on the future shape of local public services

COVID-19 has redefined how we think about where and how we live.

Returning to the old normal is no longer enough. We need to reassess what we want from our local areas, public services and lives, and take the lead in rebuilding our communities.

‘Re-thinking local’ is the LGA’s campaign to start the debate on the future shape of local public services. Councils and communities need to bring forward the innovation and creative thinking they have demonstrated during this crisis.

It is this conversation and the actions we take in partnership with government that will help us recover and rebuild. But only if we allocate the resources where they are needed – rather than determining everything from Whitehall – can this process achieve what the country needs.

Councils have worked tirelessly to support their local communities during this unprecedented crisis, but we must now ensure their financial sustainability if they are to continue to innovate and invest in their services and local economies. Despite welcome emergency government funding, LGA analysis shows councils still face a considerable funding gap as a result of dealing with the pandemic.

As we head into the autumn, with a proposed Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper in September and the Autumn Budget in November, we must show how councils can use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not just recover but to go even further – and address the stark inequalities the virus has exposed, develop a green recovery, address skills gaps and rebuild the economy so it benefits everyone.

We recently launched our ‘green’ jobs research (see first 649) showing that a sustainable economic recovery could create up to 694,000 direct jobs in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy by 2030.

We have joined with others to collectively urge the Government to keep planning local, so people have a say over development in their communities.

We’ve examined how the power to raise more money locally – and have greater control over how national taxation is spent – would provide the targeted economic development support needed to level-up communities.

And we are launching a new debate on the future of care and support – with a set of principles to underpin adult social care reform in light of the COVID-19 experience (see p5).

Our work over the coming months will amplify the voices of our communities, and councils’ solutions to the issues that impact those communities. We invite all councils, partners and national government to engage in this conversation and Re-think local.

You can find out more about the campaign at www.local.gov.uk/re-thinking-local and #CouncilsCan

We are continually updating our coronavirus hub (www.local.gov.uk/coronavirus) with links to resources, guidance, public health advice and other useful material. You can also follow us on Twitter at @LGAcomms and @LGAnews for regular updates.

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