Local Labour shows the way
In political circles at least we are in full-blown general election mode. In my home seat of Hornsey and Wood Green every weekend brings with it another swath of new activists determined to play their part in winning the constituency back for Labour.
If we can pull off a ground operation that secures the necessary gains, an incoming Labour administration will find much changed in the world of local government. The headlines are pretty stark: since Labour left office in 2010, locally our budget has come down by a third, and over the next three years we must reduce it by a further £70m. This means a 60 per cent real terms reduction in core funding by 2018-19. This is a common national picture and in the context of increasing demand, particularly in terms of school places, housing, health and social care, we in local government are making some tough decisions.
We are smaller but, more significantly, the job of a council has changed in recent years beyond all recognition. We are no longer big organisations that simply deliver services – of varying quality – to people in a transactional way. Increasingly our focus is on securing better outcomes for our communities through partnership working, co-production and a focus on positive economic growth which brings investment and opportunities for local people.
We are making our contribution towards reducing the national deficit. In some cases there has been a high price to pay that is affecting the support we are able to give to local people. But we have also been hugely successful in changing the way we do things and delivering better outcomes. The ‘troubled families’ programme – aptly named Families First in Haringey – has been very effective and makes plain the importance of being close to a problem to really understand it and that strong partnerships across the public sector are critical in making it a success.
A new government should not underestimate the importance of leadership, partnerships, relationships and their relevance to positive change both at an individual and whole-system level. Our pursuit of greater personalisation of care demonstrates exactly that point. At an individual level residents are empowered to decide how their care is delivered and who delivers it and, as a result, are able to lead more independent lives. At a whole-system level we work closely with partners, deliver services more effectively and, in the main, at a lower cost than before.
This is why, despite the challenges, many Labour leaders see the changing nature of local politics and government as an opportunity, not a disaster. It is our responsibility to ensure that we shield our residents from the impact and reality of funding cuts. I do not believe that less money necessarily means a worse service and I did not get into politics to manage decline.
Locally we are meeting the challenge of finding new and different ways to generate income, promote economic growth, build more resilient communities and provide services. We are identifying ways of doing things that are better value for money and are targeting our efforts more effectively. The job is not anywhere near complete, but from the developing regional devolution deals, to the efforts to properly integrate health and social care services, to the plans to ensure the right skills and training are available to enable people to access jobs, we are delivering real change and opportunities where Whitehall is just too remote to be effective.
There has been a quiet revolution in town halls. Labour in local government really sets the pace in providing a positive choice for residents, demonstrating clear vision and providing leadership with partners from across different sectors. A new national government needs to recognise the changes that have taken place, learn from our tried-and-tested approach and reset the relationship with local leaders to ensure there is genuine partnership in power.
Claire Kober is leader of the London borough of Haringey. She is speaking at the Progress fringe at the Labour local government conference, 2pm on Saturday 7 February 2015
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