Local government ‘in need of radical reinvention’

4 Jan 18

Radical reinvention is needed in local government or its future might come into question, a think-tank has warned.

The New Local Government Network said in its paper A Changemaking Vision for Local Government, released yesterday, that the most innovative parts of the sector already pioneered new approaches but the whole of local government now needed to grasp this without waiting for ministers to tell them to.

The paper, by NLGN director Adam Lent and deputy director Jessica Studdert, argued that a major cultural shift was needed “towards three core values: creativity, collaboration and self-determination”.

They said governments had “preferred to kick the can further down the road” rather than resolve major problems like social care and housing “more often than not for fear of the electoral consequences”.

Even though solutions had long been identified by independent inquiries and experts these had been ignored or watered down beyond recognition by governments.

This trend had left local government to try to respond to growing social care demands with dwindling funds, develop plans for economic regeneration with limited and fragmented powers and to provide homes “in an absurdly complex and highly politicised regulatory context”.

The paper warned that local government funding had become unsustainable putting the delivery of statutory duties under serious threat leaving councils at risk of “simply muddling through” service delivery.

That could lead some to question the purpose of local government, with services parcelled out as a consequence to other public bodies or central government.

“Without a clear perspective on how local, democratically governed services and citizen engagement based on diverse visions of place play a fundamental role in addressing the big challenges outlined above, councils are at genuine risk of facing marginalisation,” the authors argued.

They said councils should embrace creativity based on “the sheer need for agility and adaptability to respond to external complexities and urgencies, there is increasing awareness that ideas and initiative cannot be the sole reserve of a few senior individuals”.

Closely linked to this idea was self-determination, by which employees were encouraged to act on their own initiative and collaboration to ensure efforts were reinforced rather than duplicated.

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