The world of local government is a completely different one from the reality we all knew when we held our Stronger Things conference with partners at Future Gov, Power to Change and many others in London in March this year.
Throughout the last six months we have been working to support our members by holding a series of in-depth innovation exchanges – listening and learning events with our brilliant members. We have heard some genuinely inspiring, uplifting stories of council officers, elected members, local NHS partners and community organisations all working their socks off to support local people and communities through the various stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. From full scale lockdown, shielding and the gradual reopening of schools, local economies and health services towards establishing arrangements for the three tiers of local lockdown. It has been a true privilege to have that rich and varied experience shared between colleagues from all over the UK so that we can learn from each other during the most testing of times where local leadership has never been more important.
One of the key themes to emerge has been the importance of recognising the critical role of ‘place’ in public policy.
Each of our members have developed their own unique approach to tackling the problems of COVID-19, whether it is on implementing a local test and trace programme or supporting shielded people within their neighbourhoods, because local communities are different in each place.
Often, public policy is designed in a one-size-fits-all way which doesn’t provide the flexibility and sensitivity we need to make it fit with local circumstances.
The contrast between central and local government has been thrown into sharp relief during the pandemic, particularly when it comes to test, trace and isolate, with clashes between council leaders, elected mayors and ministers on who should have the power to decide what happens in a city region.
This has revealed just how important it is for central Government to take account of place when determining policy.
The success of local government is now also intrinsically linked with how effective it is at working with partners and local communities; how effectively it listens and changes as a result of what citizens say.
We have listened to local government and are going to make some changes based on what we have heard. We are placing a stronger emphasis on cross-sector working, including the NHS, housing associations, police, the Department for Work and Pensions and private sector working with local communities to innovate and support community power in their localities. We are no longer NLGN – we are now New Local.
New Local will have the same objectives but they will be expanded to welcome a wider range of sectors to join the network as we have had interest from integrated care systems and NHS organisations.
This won’t be a watering down of the focus on local government, but the pandemic has shown us even more clearly that councils are part of local systems that need to work together with local people.
We will also be continuously working to lobby Government, other politicians and national bodies to ensure the role of ‘place’ is given a defining role in public policy. It is as much in the interests of national Government to get this right as it is in the locality.
There is also a new website full of resources and success stories from our members. We really hope you like it. Tell us what you think as you shape your New Local.
Professor Donna Hall CBE is chair of New Local (formerly NLGN)