Post-Covid Councils: Towards a New Municipalism

Image by Kevin Norris from Pixabay

Towards a new municipalism is part of our post-covid councils project.

In response to the challenges of the 21st century, local authorities have been developing new ways of working that move away from traditional models of service provision and see the local authority as a facilitator of outcomes, endowed with democratic accountability and hence the legitimacy to make or endorse decisions: a ‘new municipalism’.

Covid has had the effect of sharpening the emphases of these changes and in some cases questioning the direction of travel. It’s no longer acceptable to muddle through with adult social care and all can see that grandiose national government schemes are less effective than more modest local schemes, eg track and trace. It can also been seen that by moving away from service provision, councils have lost considerable capacity to react to crises.

The scenarios we are exploring in this pillar of our project are a mixture of ideas already started, those that were previously on the fringes but now look sensible and those that are a bit more blue sky. Whether they represent a good fit depends of course upon the circumstances of each local authority.

Below is a list of the scenarios we have identified so far. The LGIU will be commissioning papers from our staff and associates in order to create a portfolio view of the future of local government. Once the scenarios are completed we will convene a workshop to discuss the ideas, spot patterns and maybe suggest which innovations are most likely to come about and when. For more information please contact Andy Johnston.

Evolving council: the council as a learning institution checking progress reviewing decisions and improving continually, also Schumpeterian at shedding old ideas that don’t work and reinventing itself.

Civil society/community driven council: what would happen if the Big Society was a blueprint for the future of LG? Civil society delivers most things and the council is the chamber that has the debates and makes the decisions on direction and resources.

Low tax council: a council which costs its citizens very little would be attractive in a post-Covid recession, how might this be achieved and what would it look like. How would this be achieved in high deprivation areas?

Networked council: a council that shapes its place but is not confined by it and sees its role to join with other councils/places to change the world. eg Bristol’s prominent role in the Parliament of Mayors.

Economy driven council: the primary function is to foster local economic growth probably through some sort of intervention. Can take part ownership in local economic development and access international markets for investment purposes.

Resilient council: the council that sees the world as full of risk for its citizens and will work to make sure it’s there to offer support/recovery and build that capacity in its citizens.

The ‘Exploded’ council: “Cornwall is just an exploded city” – all the bits are there but differently distributed. Conversely, in Ireland the National Planning Framework aims to establish critical mass in urban areas.

The Municipal council: an update on the council as a provider of services such as housing. Part of a network of other locally elected organisations working together (eg parishes, municipal districts, community councils).

Multi democratic council: adopting a comprehensive mix of democratic innovations that work together – vibrant representative democracy with lots of independents, established parties, civil movements suggesting radical ideas supported by deliberative decision making, participatory budgeting, citizens assemblies etc.

Wellbeing driven councilin a post Covid world wellbeing is all and the council reorientates its purpose to focus on the wellbeing of citizens. eg Barking and Dagenham. What does this mean for relationships with the NHS, pharmaceutical industry, gyms, mental health charities etc.

Green council: the environmental imperative drives the tackling of climate change, local delivery of the SDGs, increased biodiversity and circular economies.

Explore these ideas further...

The future of local government

Covid-19 has exacerbated and expanded the disruption and problems that local government around the world was already facing up to. In this introductory essay to this pillar of our post-Covid councils project, Dr Andy Johnston looks at the impacts of Covid in areas like economy, community wellbeing and technology and how responses to these challenges could shape the future workings of councils. Read the full article.

Revisiting municipalisation

How might the municipalism of previous generations of councils be made relevant and workable for the 21st century? In this article Janet Sillett offers a vision of a council choosing to bring a 21st century take to the concept of municipalism by rethinking insourcing, inclusive local based economy and a renewed focus on local solutions for local conditions among other things. Read the article.

A wellbeing council

This scenario, written by LGIU Associate Laura Catchpole, explores what a council that focuses on wellbeing could look like. It is in the form of an imagined communication from a local government leader discussing the merits of the wellbeing council. Read the article.

The multi-democratic council

In this paper LGIU Associate Kerry Ferguson explores the ‘multi-democratic council’, where a revitalised representative democracy and party politics meet new and participatory forms of democracy, in which citizens engage directly in decision making and bring new perspectives into policy making. Read the article.