“Naively, before you come into local government, you think the quality of people can’t be that good. But you find they are very good and very committed,” says Cllr James Jamieson, Leader of Central Bedfordshire Council.
“There are constraints, though. There are democratic constraints – we have to consult. But some of them are because we have too many silos across the public sector.”
For his key areas of concern as a council leader – adult social care, children’s services, housing and planning, regeneration, funding and, increasingly, climate change and sustainability – he gives examples of how more joined-up working locally would create benefits for residents and generate efficiencies for cash-strapped councils.
“One-third of councils fear they will run out of money for statutory services by the end of this Parliament
“Adult social care is clearly underfunded and we need to lobby for extra funding. But we could do an awful lot more if the public sector worked together in a holistic way,” he says.
Cllr Jamieson wants to change a system in which the NHS can cure an elderly resident’s kidney infection, but the prolonged stay in hospital means he loses weight, mobility and – ultimately – his independence. Intervening earlier, preventing disease and combining treatment with occupational therapy to retain mobility could address these issues.
Councils need more powers over housing and planning, so as they can ensure sufficient suitable housing is available for older residents who want to downsize from family homes.
This kind of housing in town centres, along with accommodation for younger people “just starting out”, could help support struggling high streets, as well as putting residents within walking distance of shops, local buses, doctors and other public services.
And if existing residents could see a new school and GP surgery first when presented with plans for more housing, they would be more willing to accept new developments.
The key is getting more powers devolved locally so councils can get on with creating supportive communities and resilient residents, and simplifying the multiple funding streams and bidding processes they have to negotiate to finance changes.
“If you can devolve to the local level, you will get better decision making. While every council can do their best to effect change locally, it requires national policy changes to be able to do what we want to do for our residents. It is all about communities – which is why I stood for LGA chairman,” says Cllr Jamieson.