Locality’s Keep it Local Network brings together councils that are choosing to move away from big outsourcing contracts and instead are commissioning local community organisations that really know the people who are accessing services. Ed Wallis, Head of Policy and Public Affairs explains.
For years now, LGIU’s State of Local Government Finance survey has been telling us the same story. Deep cuts and rising demand mean councils face a desperate challenge to balance the books while continuing to provide high quality services for residents. In pursuit of this, in 2020 nearly all councils will again be forced to raise council tax, most will dip into reserves, and there is an overwhelming lack of confidence about the ongoing sustainability of the sector.
In theory, the new government’s agenda should provide some reassurance. “Austerity is over”, we are told, and a new interest in place will see a grand “levelling up” of those areas that have slipped behind the rest. But LGIU’s survey shows councils are sensibly sanguine about their prospects of being a government priority in the year ahead. And IFS analysis of the Conservative manifesto plans for local government showed that further cutbacks are likely.
There is no doubt we need national level solutions – and fast. But councils aren’t in a position be Micawberish about the prospects of something turning up. So, in lieu of leadership from elsewhere, many of them are finding their own bold ways forward. Indeed, this week Locality is announcing eleven trailblazing “Keep it Local” councils who recognise that the solutions to their biggest challenges can often be found on their own doorsteps: in their network of local community organisations.
Take adult social care for example, which the LGIU survey shows remains the top long-term pressure for councils. Government continues to only offer short term cash top ups that barely even qualify for the derisory “sticking plaster” soubriquet. So councils have to find ways to keep people living healthier, happier lives in their own communities, so they are less likely to need expensive residential care.
Calderdale’s Staying Well service is a great example of the potential of this. It aims to reduce loneliness by supporting people to engage in social activities and health services in the community. Staying Well workers are located in local community hubs, working closely with the Council’s neighbourhood workers. The scheme is already seeing success in reducing unnecessary GP appointments.
Cogs of connection
New Locality research published this week explores just why more and more councils are looking to Keep it Local. In particular, it shines a light on the distinctive role community organisations play as local “cogs of connection” in their neighbourhoods. Over time, they build deep relationships with particular places. They know the people who live there and they care passionately about their wellbeing. They have unrivalled local knowledge and have developed strong bonds of trust. This makes them able to connect all parts of their community – especially those who might traditionally be less likely to engage – with not only the different services they need but also with wider local life.
So staff at Manor and Castle Development Trust in Sheffield see their role as being able “to recognise links and connections”. Their services may operate independently, but “once you’re in one you get linked up to other things”.
There is growing body of evidence that it is precisely this quality – the ability to connect – that can provide the solution to many of the knottiest problems that are putting council budgets under such pressure: from loneliness to community safety to homelessness. These are complex problems that can’t be fixed by top-down plans or simple market incentives. Instead they require deep and lasting relationships to be forged, with power widely dispersed and services joined-up around the distinct needs of every person. And our new research demonstrates that these are the things that community organisations are uniquely well-placed to do.
What’s more, investing in community organisations means maximising the local economic impact of public sector spending, with wealth being retained and spread across our neighbourhoods, rather than leaking out.
The first eleven Keep it Local councils
It is for these reasons that eleven trailblazer councils have joined Locality’s Keep it Local Network. For too long the power of community has tended to be crowded out – by bureaucratic commissioning and mega outsourcing contracts. But Keep it Local councils are forging a different path. They are seeking to support and nurture their community organisations – by building partnerships, sharing power, and maximising local strengths. They have endorsed six Keep it Local principles, appointed champions in their cabinet and senior leadership team, and committed to working with Locality to assess and improve their current practice.
As Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council puts it: “This isn’t about altruism, or working with local organisations because it’s a nice thing to do. We want to Keep it Local because we know it’s the best way to provide the best possible offer for our communities.”
The eleven councils that have signed up to the Network so far are:
- Bradford Metropolitan District Council
- Bristol City Council
- Calderdale Council
- Hackney Council
- Kirklees Council
- Lewisham Council
- Newcastle City Council
- Oldham Council
- Rotherham Council
- South Gloucestershire Council
- Wirral Council