Councillors and their councils have the democratic mandate, expertise and local insights to change our communities for the better.
The past few months have seen unimaginable changes to our local areas.
In many ways, the situation we have found ourselves in has helped solve some of the issues that councils were always ambitious to tackle but results at this pace and scale never seemed possible.
We have seen rough sleeping virtually eliminated, cleaner air in our towns and cities, an explosion in green forms of travelling and an unprecedented surge in community action.
At the same time, coronavirus and its disproportionate impact on different communities has highlighted those issues that have remained stubbornly resistant to change – including the precarious state of adult social care, and long-standing public health and other systemic inequalities based on wealth, poverty and ethnicity.
People and organisations across the country have adapted to new ways of operating, with councils demonstrating their leadership and taking on new responsibilities such as supporting those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, while navigating a new environment of more remote working.
The breadth and depth of this international crisis means there have undoubtedly been challenges for governments across the world. In the UK, the sustainable supply and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), monitoring the spread of infection by testing and tracing, protecting staff, residents and patients in care and health settings, and ensuring all our children continue to have the best start in life have been just some of the issues it has been difficult to get right.
“With the right powers, sustainable funding, and enhanced flexibilities, local government can build on the positives we have achieved and ensure our communities prosper”
We know that COVID-19 is best understood as a pattern of local outbreaks, rather than a national pandemic with a similar impact in every community. No other organisation can understand local areas better than councils.
The highly valued services we deliver – public health, adult social care, children’s services, homelessness support, provision for the vulnerable and those in financial hardship – have been crucial to the initial response by protecting lives and livelihoods. We are ambitious for our communities, and always stand ready to offer local solutions to the national challenges we face.
Similarly, different areas of the country will require a unique and coordinated response as we move towards the recovery period. The effective delivery of the next phase will depend on all agencies working in partnership at the local level, and councils are best placed to convene this work.
As we continue to work through the COVID-19 response and plan for the next phase, there is much we can learn from our work in recent weeks and months. Looking at residents’ satisfaction with the support offered to them, their families and their communities – alongside their confidence in the messages they are receiving from local and central government, and their views on post-lockdown recovery – will provide valuable information to help guide our work.
For this reason, the LGA has undertaken two public polls to look at residents’ views on how councils have supported their communities and their response to COVID-19. This insight is intended to complement local intelligence and the work you are doing at a local level.
In particular, our regular reputation tracker has seen a significant increase, with residents responding positively about councils across all the indicators. The overall satisfaction level with local councils – 75 per cent – is the highest we have ever recorded in these polls.
This includes significant increases in residents being satisfied with their local area (87 per cent positive), trusting their local authority (71 per cent), and councils demonstrating value for money (57 per cent), acting on their concerns (68 per cent) and keeping residents informed (69 per cent).
This helps us build a case for local democratic leaders to play a bigger role in the months and years to come. Since the LGA was created more than 20 years ago, we have consistently made the case that bringing power and resources closer to people is the key to delivering better outcomes for communities and inclusive growth across the country. Councillors and their councils have the democratic mandate, expertise and local insights to change our communities for the better. We have shown what is possible and demonstrated our willingness to prioritise tackling this pandemic head on, and to play an even bigger role in supporting national efforts.
We have already secured billions of pounds of funding and new measures that have helped us support our residents and businesses in the initial response. And we have shown that we can respond quickly and efficiently to be there for our communities in their time of need.
With the right powers, sustainable funding, and enhanced flexibilities, local government can build on the positives we have achieved in the past few months and ensure our communities prosper for the future.
In the coming weeks, the LGA will be exploring with councils your ideas as to how we can achieve a long-term transformation of the economy.
This could include local ownership of the employment and skills agenda; fiscal decentralisation; a new way of funding adult social care; capital investment in housing and infrastructure; or accelerating a sustainable economic recovery through a focus on green jobs. You can read more about our recommendations on the latter on p15.
We know we need the Government to set the national fiscal and policy framework that will support councils to deliver on this agenda, and want to help you make the case to secure that.
As always, to help keep you up-to-date with all the latest developments, we are continually refreshing 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 the latest updates.