I unexpectedly lost my mum in November. She had migrated here from Italy in 1955 to find work and build a life, marrying my dad, who had migrated from Mauritius, and had three children. They saved their money, bought our home, and ensured that us kids made the most of our state education. They had the classic immigrant desire to see us kids maximise our potential and, to a great degree, they succeeded.
Little would they have recognised the role of our local council (Ealing) in much of this. Yes, the council had something to do with school admissions and administrating student grants (remember those?) for the two of us that went on to university, but little else.
Like most, they would not have understood the council’s role in supporting local businesses to start, thrive, and to provide jobs; of adult education in retraining and supporting workers into new roles; of planning and regeneration to identify and develop under-utilised land into new purposes; of providing or enabling housing and other infrastructure to ensure that there were local workers for local businesses; of maintaining roads and transport connections so goods could be transported; of environmental health to ensure healthy and productive workplaces; of regulatory activities like trading and food standards to ensure a level playing field for both workers and consumers; or latterly, councils’ role in enabling broadband to support virtual working through the pandemic.
It is not uncommon for the public, not to mention politicians, to be unaware of councils’ role in driving economic growth, especially as the economic development function is non-statutory. And, as a country we remain unclear how to achieve the best balance between local, sub-regional, regional and national growth initiatives – no serious commentator would dispute that all of these need to be blended successfully to support the country’s recovery from the pandemic.
Sadly, my mum won’t be around to experience the renaissance when it comes. But for those who are, the critical role of local authorities needs to be recognised and underpinned if the recovery is to be as swift and as fulsome as possible.
Abdool Kara is executive leader for local services at the National Audit Office