The latest funding crisis report has brought into even
sharper focus the debate on what future role and shape local government should
Should it play a meaningful role in acting as a catalyst for
local society and the local economy or should it play a passive role
emasculated of any real capacity to influence and shape with regard to the
dominant public policy and social issues of the day?
This is a debate that is often played out in the offices of
a handful of think-tank’s congregated in a small but powerful area of the
country but what do those elected members and officers who are actually
involved at the coalface of local government across the country think?
APSE’s latest research through its knowledge transfer
partnership with De Montfort University aimed to find this out. The Ensuring
Council: An alternative vision for local government is the report that emerged
from this work.
What it found was that despite concepts such as the ‘enabling
council’ or ‘commissioning council’, which would strip away much of local
government’s service delivery role, being heavily promoted, many in local
government do not share this vision. There view was that there is very little
evidence to support assumptions that strategic objectives can be achieved by
merely acting as an ‘enabler’ or ‘commissioner’.
Our researchers found the majority in local government do
not wish to divest themselves of capacity to deliver for their communities. The
ensuring council model starts to articulate an alternative vision for the
future of local government. This is built on the principles of democratic
accountability, stewardship, public value, social justice, civic
entrepreneurship, financial capacity and empowering local communities,
underpinned by a core capacity of in-house services delivered in collaboration,
not competition, with other providers.
My view is that the ensuring council model resonates with
those who are passionate about local government because it means councils are ‘doers’
locally, rather than handing over responsibility to others. This enables them
to join up strategic thinking with operational efficiency and gives greater flexibility
in responding to ever increasing demands.
So what’s it to be, local government playing an active role in
local communities or stepping aside passively to let others fill the void?