Post-Covid Councils

How will Covid-19 change the world?

It’s too early to know of course, but there’s no shortage of predictions being offered up out there.

Some suggest that it will bring a sea change in state investment, an increased valuing of key workers, a recognition of the importance of social care and a reset on social values and sustainability, with new thinking about growth and what really matters to us.

Others fear we may see another decade of austerity, excessive centralisation, increased surveillance and control, an exacerbation of existing economic and educational inequalities, a neglect of less visible services and increasing nationalism and isolationism.

But none of this is set in stone – there are choices to be made. We should be making the argument now for the world we want to live on the other side of this pandemic.

For local government this is both a fundamental and an urgent question.

Councils across the world are battling heroically to support communities through the crisis, whilst worrying that they will be left with millions of pounds of shortfall in their budgets. At the same time they are planning for recovery and thinking about the sorts of institutions they need to evolve into.

These debates will unfold over many months but we must begin the groundwork now to ensure that we establish the right narrative pathways.

This framework is intended to help local authorities ask a set of structured questions about how we emerge from the immediate crisis.

It’s not intended to replace detailed recovery planning but to help place that planning within an overall context so that we can begin to imagine the shape of local government post-Covid.

We will be populating this framework with a range of contributions over the months ahead from briefings to blog posts, from podcasts to academic research. We hope this will build into a detailed account of how future local government will function.  We need your insight to help shape this discussion, let us know how you would like to be involved here.

It’s not too early to start asking questions. These are the ones we are thinking about now:

1. The location of power

The Covid-19 pandemic shows that we need collaboration at international level and strategic national leadership. But it also demonstrates a vital role for local government and for community action.

  • What can we learn about the appropriate levels of power and decision making?
  • Does this crisis shed any new light on how power should be exercised at different levels and why?
  • How do we play these lessons forward into the debate on devolution/levelling up?
  • What are the dangers of excessive centralisation? How do we resist this?
  • How do we measure the mission creep of centralisation? What are appropriate yardsticks for marking changes to devolution and centralisation? How would we know if localism was working?
  • How do we make the case for a cosmopolitan localism; a connected localism that is outward-looking and open, not nativist or isolationist?

Coronavirus and the risk of hypercentralisation after the crisis

In response to the coronavirus crisis the state is expanding enormously. This has big potential implications for the post-crisis future, including increased centralisation. Read this briefing

Why localism and globalism can and must go together

following the launch of LGiU Australia, our CEO Jonathan Carr-West takes us through one of our core values – a belief that localism and globalism can and must go together. Read this briefing.

Democracy deferred? Elections and engagement during and after the Covid-19 pandemic

This collection of content reflects on how the pandemic has effected discourse and decision-making – the consequences of cancelling elections and the consequences of carrying them out, and the blurring lines between authoritarian and liberal democracy. Read this bundle.

2. The reset

From cleaner air, to the lowest traffic levels in a century, not all the changes that have come out of the current crisis have been bad. Can we hang on to these benefits as we move forward? Does the crisis provide a critical juncture in which to rethink economic, environmental and social values? Or will we just return to business as usual?

How does our experience of the Covid-19 pandemic change the way we value things like:

  • Sustainability
  • Economic growth
  • Skills
  • Jobs
  • Values
  • Wellbeing
  • Risk?

Strategic recovery planning – early considerations for place-shaping post-Covid-19

This briefing considers local authorities’ approaches to medium and long-term ‘strategic recovery planning’ of their cities, towns and communities in the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, and suggests possible frameworks for strategic recovery planning. Read this briefing.

This changes everything: Policy implications of Covid-19

When in the eye of the storm it is difficult to think beyond the immediate pressure, but when the pandemic has abated it will be important to reflect and learn lessons that will make us better prepared and more resilient for the future. Read this briefing.

Local government and Covid-19: the economic impact

It is clear that Covid-19 is already having a profound impact on economies globally and nationally. We consider here the negative effects on jobs, regions, sectors and individuals. We also consider possible future implications for public spending and social and economic equality. Read this briefing.

Local government’s Latest Challenge: Combatting Climate Change

This briefing looks at how the councils who have recently declared a ‘Climate Emergency’ can start to consider the next steps that they will take. It focuses on initiatives that have been implemented in Europe; specifically in Scandinavian countries and France. Read this briefing.

Utilising local authority powers to address climate change and build more resilient communities

This briefing explores climate change predictions for the UK, questioning the implications change will have on both people and places, before considering the benefits of utilising local-authority-run services in order to address this crisis and build more resilient communities. Read this briefing

3. Place and community

What have we learned about place and community? The immediate danger of Covid-19 seems to have generated a degree of community spirit and common endeavour, seen in everything from mutual aid groups to clapping for carers. Will this continue as the pandemic drags on and the economic impact begins to bite.

On the flip side the impacts of the pandemic have not been equally spread with BAME people and deprived communities affected most severely. Will we start to confront these inequalities or will Covid merely enhance pre-pandemic levels of social injustice?

  • Do we pull together or fall apart?
  • What have been the levers of community in this time and what can we learn?
  • This is a shared event but with different experiences: how do we learn and apply lessons from the impacts to all communities and groups?
  • What concrete things can be done to support place and community cohesion into the future? Are there mechanisms, structures, institutions etc, at the local and national level that we can draw on, develop or create?

Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 years on

What has happened to health inequalities since 2010? The Health Foundation’s important report ‘Health Equity in England’ provides an update ten years after the original Marmot review. The report analyses what has changed and recommends a national cross-government health inequalities strategy to tackle the social determinants of health. Read this briefing.

Covid-19: It’s not equal in the end

Black and minority ethnic people and the poor are dying in disproportionate numbers from Covid-19. As the evidence mounts by the day will this pandemic mark a sea change in policy to tackle health inequalities in the future? Read this briefing.

Identity, Communities, Regeneration: sense of place in local government

In this piece, Janet Sillett looks at what makes a place a place, what makes some places work and others not, how councils chart the story of their places and respond to the changes that inevitably happen. Read this briefing.

4. Unfinished business

Local government was in crisis even before Covid-19 struck. All the challenges local government faced pre-Covid  – social care, sustainable finance etc. – are only getting worse while attention is focused on this crisis. Now, Covid-19 may leave councils across the country at risk of financial failure.

  • What needs to happen post-Covid to fix this and what damage has been done in the meantime?
  • How can we ensure that less visible or popular services like community mental health do not get left behind?

View our Unfinished Business publication here.

5. Trust and governance

Covid-19 landed in a world in which levels of trust in institutions and faith in democratic processes were in widespread decline. This poses profound challenges to political and public life that we are only beginning to realise.

  • Will this crisis ameliorate or exacerbate existing trends around declining trust in institutions and democracy?
  • What have we learned about the value of representation?
  • What is the role of expertise and evidence in political decision making?

Keynote presentation at the 2017 LGNSW Annual Conference

Jonathan Carr-West spoke at the LGNSW Annual Conference in 2017. There, he gave a keynote presentation and answered questions about this address. View here.

6. Towards a new municipalism

Responding to these challenges means that councils will have to change. We need a new form of municipalism for the twenty-first century. Not just about bureaucracies but about relationships. Not just about bricks and mortar but about a new social architecture that we are all part of.

  • What is the role of local government in the future? Services? Economic growth? Or a more expansive idea of place-leadership and wellbeing?
  • How should councils emerge as institutions?
  • What different forms of working and of organisational culture do we need?
  • How do councils function as institutions in a networked world?
  • How can local authorities be more embedded within their communities and build community resilience?

Disconnected Communities: could direct democracy be the path to a more representative form of politics?

Across Europe there has been a rise in the number of people who feel excluded from mainstream political decision-making. With this in mind, we explore ‘direct democracy’ and question whether this could be a tool for local authorities to build more representative, trusted and cohesive models of governance. Read this briefing.

Deliberative Democracy in Belgium: The introduction of a citizen’s council

This briefing follows a previous LGIU report into local government in Belgium that analysed the levels of decentralisation in the country’s political infrastructure. This report will consider the recent history of citizen’s assemblies across Europe, developments within Belgium, and considerations towards future use. Read this briefing.

Get involved

We need your insight and experience as we develop scenarios and support for our member councils. There are many ways to get involved and shape the discussion – from online events to sharing your own case studies and think pieces to share with LGIU Members and Followers. Let us know how you would like to be involved and which topics you are most interested in.

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