England & Wales Communities and society, Culture, sport and tourism, Democracy, devolution and governance

Municipal postcard: J’aime l’administration locale


This summer we’ve had some jet-setting LGiU staffers sending back Municipal Postcards from RwandaBotswanaNew YorkSan Francisco, and Florence.  But it all kicked off in Paris. The city of lovers of local government.

Tagging on to some European work on resilience, we thought it would a great opportunity to pursue the entente cordiale and share the experiences of local government across la Manche. (And if you’re wondering how long I can keep up with the peppering of bad French, the answer is a very long time indeed, but I won’t.)

We provided bursaries to several members of our policy network who shared the practitioner perspective and we invited our opposite numbers from Parisian think tanks, local government and the British Embassy.

It was an absolutely fascinating experience and took a slightly more philosophical bent than it would have if we’d held the same workshop in a dreary business park meeting room. But the beauty of that was that it wasn’t a less useful experience for being more thoughtful and less practical.  We explored how our core values of local democracy and community centred, pragmatic politics would be tested as local government seeks greater devolution while facing perhaps the toughest funding outlook in living memory.

For me there were three key take-aways:

  • We need to appreciate that the physical environment in which we work contributes to the productivity and quality of the ideas they generate.  Visual prompts and art matters.
  • We need to shake up how we work with our members and where we do so. Yes, it might seem profligate to go to Paris, but it’s actually no more expensive than going to Halifax or Canterbury or Wolverhampton. And what we gained by mixing with different people with completely different perspectives but still staying very focused on British local government was priceless.
  • There really is something about the French way of sharing a meal, even with colleagues, that supports a different kind of human connection.

At LGiU we’ve vowed to take on board some of these broader cultural lessons.  We’ve already had our first ‘slow lunch’ where we had a broad conversation about devolution that has shaped our course of work. (We need to get a little slower on the lunch though. We’re working on it.)

We already think that we have a cool office with a great and economical use of space. But we need art. We’ve talked about several different ideas, including borrowing art works from local authority collections. Please get in touch if you can help.

And we’re also going to continue to explore how we can work more closely with our policy network and think differently about space and venues. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that our #spacerace project which celebrates unusual local government spaces and places was inspired by our work in Paris.

Vive la difference!