Of all the things that I have taken away from the Commonwealth Local Government Conference one sticks in my mind most readily. That is the sight last night of the Minister for Local Government; his Permanent Secretary; the Secretary General of the South African LGA and an assortment of mayors having dinner together in Cardiff. Can you imagine it happening in England? No neither can I!
The Commonwealth Local Government Conference was a great success for Cardiff City Council who0 hosted it; for the Welsh LGA and Assembly Government who backed it; for the Commonwealth Local Government Forum itself and for those who attended who got a wealth of learning and contacts from it.
I chaired a session with a joint talk from the UNCDF and the Ugandan Ministry of Local Government about how they had developed a comprehensive national programme for economic development but had incorporated at the right level strong intervention and support for local government in the creation and development of local economic opportunities. They had rightly decided what needed to be done at local; regional and national levels. They had worked out the right integration procedures at each of those levels and had decided what needed to be done at those levels.
There was nothing in their talk that would not have been relevant to the UK – the only difference was that they had done it whilst we are talking about it.
Yesterday the LGAS of England; South Africa; Canada and New Zealand held a round table with a series of participants including local government ministers from places like Angola and Namibia looking at our response to the financial crisis. It was interesting to hear the Canadian Story as Canada is the model which many economists are urging the UK to follow in dealing with the public sector deficits. 10 years ago but for different reasons Canada faced its own financial crisis. Their government cracked down hard on expenditure and local councils have come out of the process stronger and more capable of delivering.
I described our Total Place activity giving the examples of some of the 13 official pilots and the way that this had led to community budgeting for ‘Families with Complex Needs’ within the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Canada followed a similar route to our Total Place activity. It now measures a series of outcomes that all levels and parts of government must strive to achieve within a commu8nity. The delivery of that then becomes a joint programme between all levels but which, crucially is led by the council.
New Zealand gave us an example of the way that The LGA has entered the bond market to purchase finance cheaply on behalf of the sector. It borrows long-term at rates similar to those of central government. This is very similar to our own way of getting better rates for councils for short term cash deposits which will be launched by CCLA in May. They also talked about the way 9 councils in the charmingly named Bay of Plenty area had come together to purchase a range of products and services.
South Africa described a major boost for infrastructure spending to keep the economy going with a strong relationship central and local government reinforced through the constitutional rights that local government has in the National Constitution.
A summary of these discussions will shortly be placed on the Local Govt Channel. I will tell you where to find it when it is up.
Lastly we had lots of talk with countries that need our help. Peer review and peers support ion the liens that we have developed in England where very much the order of the day. As you will know we have got 400,000 Euros to develop 6 peer reviews in the different parts of Africa from the Luxemburg Foreign Ministry. I have no doubt that we will soon be in at least another 4 or 5 countries delivering a development service to enable them to improve the capacity of their own councils.
It’s good to learn from others. Even the best of us can do things better. Sometimes the learning experience is better if we are challenged by people who face different circumstances to us. We need to keep up our commitment to CLGF and the World Body UCLG so that we can all learn bets practice together.