When the outgoing Solace president, Martin Swales, started his two year term of office in January 2019, his overriding aim was to build an open, more mature relationship with central Government – and specifically with civil servants, those fellow professionals who dedicate their careers to improving the life of our citizens, as we do.
For many reasons, despite our similarities, translating a shared ethos into collaborative, open, trusted relationships between central and local government has sometimes proved tricky.
COVID-19 has highlighted the crucial role councils play in place, and the Government has responded with greater engagement, even if not always with the results we might have hoped for. But as Martin’s term as president comes to an end, Solace’s engagement is on a clear upward trajectory and we need to seize the moment and push even harder to champion our role.
In particular we need all parts of Government to recognise councils as credible, relevant organisations that ministers and civil servants can trust and work with to help find and deliver solutions to the problems the nation faces, ideally by empowering local communities to shape and adapt policy to suit their own needs, unleashing the power of the local.
From 1 January Solace will have a new president – Joanne Roney – and she will continue to champion local government’s role across Whitehall. And at the centre of Solace’s agenda will be the need to tackle inequality – between people or places, in funding, or in the distribution of power.
Solace members see the negative impact inequality has on their areas daily. Amplifying the inequality agenda across all the policy spectrum has the potential to create an extremely powerful campaigning narrative for Solace and local government more generally as the nation builds back post-COVID.
2020 has been an enormous challenge. So, thank you to everyone in the sector who has worked to the point of exhaustion to support their local people. While in many ways the test has only just begun, I hope the coming year will see us begin to forge a new model of the state which enables councils to thrive and release the power of all our communities.
Graeme McDonald is managing director of the Society of Local Government Chief Executives (Solace)