England & Wales Communities and society, Economy and regeneration

Don’t forget, local government is central to everything


Dr Helen Paterson. Image via Northumberland County Council

In this article, Dr Helen Paterson, Chief Executive of Northumberland County Council, emphasises how critical local government is to effective placemaking, and an important partner that national government should not overlook.

Northumberland is a ‘land of great opportunities’ with stunning castles, coastline and picturesque villages and towns (we look forward to your next visit). Perhaps less well known are our world-class companies operating in key sectors: building the robotic technologies of the future and reinventing a sustainable future through green power at Port of Blyth. None of this should be a surprise as this region has been inventing and powering the modern world for the past three centuries (thank you, Messrs Armstrong, Stephenson and many others). Northumberland is also the largest geographical local authority in England, sometimes more of a ‘small country’ than a large county – and the County Council is at the centre of this.

Every day, we deliver the statutory services our residents need. We are also looking to the future, so we have the infrastructure in place for thriving businesses and communities. Working tirelessly to bring investors and good-quality jobs across the county and thinking about the ‘here and now’ so there are pleasant environments, great parks, clean beaches and attractive leisure facilities for all.

We are doing all of that. You are doing all of that. Looking after and shaping local places. That is what we do as local government.

As the LGIU celebrates its 40th year of supporting and advocating for our sector (Happy Birthday LGIU!), it’s having a welcomed conversation with all of us about the challenges we face, the opportunities before us and, of course, our key messages to government.

There are so many important things we need to say to government right now:

  • About sustaining critical, statutory services;
  • About sustainable funding for the sector overall;
  • About devolved powers;
  • About ensuring certainty and stability in the planning system.

Amongst those important messages (and more), my suggestion is to remind central government that it can achieve very little in places without its partners in local government. We know this intuitively. Remember Covid – remember how councils were at the centre of almost every aspect of responding to the pandemic crisis. Perhaps that was the sector’s finest hour. Yet, as we continue to recover, it’s too easy to forget councils are the primary place-shapers in their areas.

National government can do little in local places without councils. But, it can do so much with us. By my reckoning, the government has invested three-quarters of a billion pounds into Northumberland’s future, and we are grateful. For our part, we are turning that investment into delivery on the ground. For example, our new Northumberland Railway line takes shape with each day.

All of that requires us to be at the top of our game. Since taking up the role of Chief Executive in February this year (where has the time gone?), I’ve been focused on ensuring we are a credible and strong partner. A council that works with partners to get things done in Northumberland. A council that commands respect with government and investors to get the best deals possible for businesses and residents. And I’m pleased we are in a much stronger place and getting better, but I’m never complacent.

It’s ‘budget season’ for all of us in the sector, which is a good time to remind central government that in fact, we are central to almost everything they want to do in local places.

I’m passionate about public service and feel privileged to be the Chief Executive of Northumberland. I look forward to continuing our work with government to fulfil our vision of a ‘land of great opportunities’. And I’m certain LGIU will work with all of us to emphasise our unique, place-shaping role.

Join LGIU’s 40th birthday celebrations at our upcoming research symposium and party

6 Dec 2023, 10:00–15:00 (GMT) | One Angel Lane London EC4R 3AB
We will launch the LGIU@40 manifesto, a set of new ideas developed with our members and the wider sector for how local government could work better.
RSVP here to attend


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