Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Required leading

Stella Creasy assesses the impact of the NGLN’s report on council leaders, Valuing Political Leadership

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If you are honest, there are many things you would rather do than sit through a local authority meeting – let alone be elected to sit through four years of them. Chew your own arm off or go house hunting with Shirley Porter, perhaps. Yet beneath the planning committees, rabid Tory councillors and civic robes, local government is a serious business.

When you consider that councils are responsible for budgets of over £70 billion and delivering the majority of public services in this country, you can see how much difference a good councillor can make. In particular, a good leader, who can bring both clarity and purpose to the work of a Labour group, can help them transform their borough. That is why the New Local Government Network’s pamphlet should be required reading for all members of local government committees and Labour groups – preferably before their AGMs.

In Valuing Political Leadership, the NLGN has set out the qualities that it believes are required for the job of a local government council leader. Our standards for our national political leaders have always been high, and this pamphlet shows the need
to think the same way locally. As Nick Raynsford, the minister for local government, points out in his introduction, ‘local political leadership is essential to securing a safe, sustainable and secure future for our communities.’

Council leaders do more than take the flak for controlled parking zones; they are the lynchpin of any successful borough.
By going into detail about the position, the NGLN’s suggested job description is useful in showing the mix of experience, creativity and sheer effort necessary to make a council deliver. By setting out the range of skills that leaders use and the level of knowledge required in running a modern council,
the pamphlet reveals the daunting task that is managing a local authority.

If there is one quibble with the pamphlet, it would be that it doesn’t weigh the skills the job requires. From a partisan perspective, I would like to see political leadership given primacy because without it, petitions rather than principles drive decisions. After all, the division between any political leader and a council’s chief executive comes from their duty to take responsibility for the tough choices in service provision that now define local authorities. When a Labour leader does this, it is critical to be clear about how to support and sustain those services that will help tackle poverty and inequality to create a more egalitarian society.,

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Stella Creasy MP

is member of parliament for Walthamstow

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