There are 62 item(s) tagged with the keyword "local government".
From sorting out the bins to strategic oversite of high street renewals, from sunny green parks to pot-holed roads, an awful lot of business starts and ends with local councillors. Those putting themselves up for election this May are probably feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension with regard to not only the electoral process but wondering what they are letting themselves in for.
Of course, some will have been here before and know the restrictions of the existing system but for some newbies it will be a voyage of discovery where they may be about to find out that their bid to change the local ‘world’ for the better comes with limitations and frustrations despite the democratic mandate given to them by local people.
It should not however be unreasonable to expect that having won a local election, and having been entrusted with that local leadership role by the public, that Councillors would have, at the very least, oversight of all public funds spent within neighbourhoods and wider council areas. Rightly they should be regarded as place leaders, the voice of the public, there to allocate scarce resources in a fair and balanced way across all communities; not an easy task given current finances.
How do you build a new greener social, economic and environmental operating system at a local authority level? One small step at a time but with an unrelenting focus on the bigger picture of why these small steps matter.
That larger vision starts with the Climate Change Act, which commits the UK to being net zero by 2050. The trajectory of progress along the route map to that goal is monitored by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) through regular updates; the recent sixth carbon budget report being one of these. The majority of Council’s now have climate change declarations, which set out the scale of their ambitions, with many now having action plans in place to commence operationalising their drive towards carbon neutrality.
Most in local government are committed to the achievement of the aspirations behind tackling climate change but want to know what they need to do within their own service area. The five pillars outlined in the CCC report for action by local government buildings; transport; waste; land use; and electricity generation are a useful lens to look at this through.
For those of you dusting down your action plan responding to climate emergency declarations, following a pause to focus on all things Covid-19, you must have been heartened to hear the fanfare announcing the Prime Ministers ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, but when the noise died down what does it all mean for local government.
In APSE, we have always recognised that if Government wish to meet national targets around carbon neutrality and councils have declared challenging measures locally, then both will be mutually dependent on each other to make significant progress. From wider work we are engaged in this is not only a fact recognised by the Committee on Climate Change but also by the general public in the opinion polling we undertake through Survation.
It is understandable that the Prime Ministers plan has a major focus on job creation, giving a nod to many areas of the country who may benefit from green investment, as part of the levelling up agenda. One criticism would be the scale of the ambition shown, with many calling for much greater levels of spend. A wider package of £12B is welcome but even with the claim that this will stimulate three times as much again, as a contribution from the private sector, it still only takes this to half of the current spend on HS2.
As we await the recovery and devolution white paper from Government, it will be interesting to see if the summer speeches from ministers that invariably promised ‘putting an empowered local government at the heart of the economic recovery’, will be borne out in reality.
Successive governments have denuded local authorities of powers, finance and resources; stripping the sector back to an emaciated shadow of its former self. If ministers really want councils to play a key role in the recovery of the nation then we need to see more than warm words, we need to see a full-blown rehabilitation of local government in the national psyche.
To do this there needs to be proper recognition of the role of the local authority as the undisputed leader of place, the key actor in helping to deliver a better tomorrow for local communities. When we take the issue of planning for example – a responsibility that is fundamental to driving better outcomes for local people - powers need to be restored not reduced. How can you steer and stimulate a local economy or transform town centres at the very heart of local place if there is continual deregulation of your planning powers?
The upcoming comprehensive spending review represents a great opportunity for ministers.
The current crisis created by COVID-19 has forced us all to think deeply about what we value in our everyday lives and when push comes to shove, our own health and the health of our families comes into sharp focus. Perhaps therefore it’s about time that the rich health benefits that local government parks services bring to society receive much greater appreciation.
A huge emphasis has been placed by UK Governments during lockdown on focusing on the publics’ physical health and mental well-being. Local authority parks services have demonstrated, throughout the current crisis that they have been at the forefront of public health for local people and have an intrinsic part to play in the short and long-term recovery of local communities. The return on investment, by local and national governments, in parks services is colossal.
Over the past few months many have turned to parks as their daily release from the pressures of lockdown, not only to provide some peace and tranquillity in the fresh air, but to also give them their much-needed daily exercise, boosting their immune system in the process. Much has been made of a potential obesity crisis fuelled by the recent period of inactivity, however parks have helped mitigate against this and can continue to do so, by supporting active lifestyles.
It is inarguable that the last decade in local government was tough financially. Every public policy initiative, every council budget was seemingly dominated by relentless austerity. That has not gone away. However, with climate emergency declarations by local councils now standing at 65% coverage across the UK it would appear that this, not austerity, is our zeitgeist for the next decade.
Declaring an emergency is only a statement of intent; a recognition that urgent action is needed. Some have found that their passionate pledges in the council chamber can give birth to a much starker reality. Action on climate change is devoid of quick fixes. As a first step councils need to establish what is within the scope of their declaration. Is this just about decarbonising councils’ services or is it broader? Looking at supply chains or sub-regional economies? And what pledges can be made about those areas where the council is not simply the sole-trader such as municipal airports or transport infrastructure which invokes national agencies? When we start to peel back the covers issues may seem insurmountable. But this is not the case if action is properly planned.
The country recently elected a new parliament to Westminster, so what will the public want to see at the top of ministerial in-trays?
It’s very timely that Survation has just completed APSE’s annual polling of public opinion on local government services. What it finds is that satisfaction with services is starting to drop and people are noticing a decline in their locality. They are also saying they want to see more of the tax that they pay given to councils to spend in their local area.
If the new Government want to demonstrate that the decade associated with austerity has passed then the public clearly want to see visible improvements across their neighbourhood services. This means investment across everything from public realm to affordable housing. Social care also remains important in public opinion but this is balanced against these wider priorities.
A consistent trend is that trust is continuously increasing in councils and councillors to get decisions correct about their local area and to deliver services directly to local people.
Management of frontline services in local government has changed dramatically over the last decade in terms of scope, complexity and span of control – has this been truly recognised in organisational status, by professional institutes or by training providers?
APSE recently completed a review of the skills required for 21st century parks management for MHCLG’s Parks Action Group and what became obvious almost immediately was that austerity has reshaped the competency framework requirements for such roles at a rapid rate. Traditional parks management skills requirements could have been identified on one flower with seven petals with each petal a skill, fast forward a decade and they now require five flowers with the same array of petals.
The prevailing issue that has exercised the minds of those in local government for the last decade has been dealing with the impact of austerity. Whilst rumours of its demise may be somewhat premature it is likely to be overtaken by something that may have an even more fundamentally profound impact on councils, dominating almost every decision they make over the next decade – that of climate change.
Whilst many councils are alert to this agenda, with dozens declaring climate change emergencies, particularly in response to high profile public protests by young people, it is easy to move the date you expect to be carbon neutral forwards by ten years or so, but unless you focus on deliverables then achieving such aspirations could prove to be difficult in practice. The clock is ticking. There is an urgent need to move beyond strategising and rhetoric to making significant progress.
For those MJ readers of a certain age they will no doubt remember the magical world of Mr Benn; as a spaceman, a zookeeper, a cook or a diver. The adventures were always captivating and of course he received his souvenir medal once he returned through the changing room at the fancy-dress shop where his adventures commenced from. Now you may of course be wondering what Mr Benn’s has to do with local government? Well the current crop of chief officers, those who report directly to chief executives, often find themselves in a Mr Benn like world.
Local government was once a place of Weberian style municipal discipline; clearly defined roles and with that silo working, along delineated professional functions. Planners did planning. Engineers did Highways. Mr Benn would have stayed bedecked in his bowler hat! Today’s local authority chief officers, not only look different from that bygone era but are increasingly working under different guises; changing costumes to suit the adventures of the day.