Article written for the National Association of Local Councils
Now’s the time for small councils to think big!
So what does ‘Big Society’ mean? Well no-one seems too sure – even those who promote it. Tories conjure up the ideas of masses of volunteers waiting to be unleashed but in reality much of the rhetoric differs only from Lib Dem views of community politics or Labour views on neighbourhood development in terms of language and not direction.
If, as I believe, all three main Parties have now realised the errors created by centralisation of our state over the past 70 years then now is the time for those of us who truly believe in localism to put our best foot forward and develop hard, strong and practical ideas based on evidence to take advantage of this welcome move.
Town and Parish Councils should take full advantage of this to look at what they do, why they do it and how they do it. The Local Government Association has promoted to central government the concept of ‘Place Based Budgeting’. The idea is that the council will take some authority, in partnership with other providers, in bringing together all the public sector spending within their area and to develop a set of local outcomes, outputs and delivery mechanisms to meet local priorities. We all know from the work on ‘Total Place’ that there are far too many layers of government, quangos, inspectorates, bureaucratic rules standing between the tax payer and efficient service delivery. By localising budgets to principal council levels sense can be made of spending and efficient and cost effective monitoring can be put in place to ensure that the money achieves its outcomes.
But if that is true for principal councils it must be just as true for district and town and parish councils. Who has a better sense of place than the town and parish councillor or the ward councillor in the Mets and large unitary authorities?
So if I was a Town or Parish Councillor I would be doing five things at the moment:
1. Carrying with the delivery of existing services provided with or through my council.
2. Review all spending within my area by all public sector bodies and see if it is really meeting local needs
3. Offer new ways to principal councils to join up services within your council area some of which could be provided to or through your council
4. Establish a strong scrutiny activity to check whether councils above you are delivering place based budgeting effectively.
5. Developing a stronger sense of direction for my community to take advantages of changes in planning and licensing regulations which will mean more local input and less interference from Bristol.
This sounds like a lot of work. That is of course unavoidable. A lot of opportunity means a lot of work particularly at the start of things to get them working well. I would challenge NALC and its members to rise to this opportunity. I have seen at first-hand what good town and parish councils can do. I know that many but by no means all councils (at all levels) are up to the challenges that are around. I just hope that in two years time I won’t travel the Country and find a load of councils who weren’t up to the challenge, who went straight to their bunker and who failed to take advantage of the opportunities of localism to deliver better services for their constituents.
Cllr Richard Kemp
Cllr Kemp is the Lib Dem Leader at and Vice Chair of the Local Government Association