A real shift between the centre and local government

Cross-posted from Progress Online:

Innovation Taskforce Final reportAs a Labour local authority we have long known that we are best placed to deliver the kinds of social justice aims our party stands for. In May we stood on a platform of being fair to all and ambitious for everyone, and we are working every day to help improve the lives of our residents and in doing so reduce inequality.

We are at the very frontline, delivering the services that our residents interact with daily. By definition, we engage with our local communities in a way that central government simply cannot. And perhaps for that reason (according to IPPR research) public trust in local councils ranks twice as high as it does for parliament.

That is why I very much welcome this week’s Local Government Innovation Taskforce report. This is a fantastic milestone in changing the way we think about public service delivery, and I am pleased that our central policymakers are recognising the huge potential of local government and the role of the community.

The three core principles which underpin the report – people power, collaboration and prevention – really chime with what we have been in doing in Lambeth over the last few years, and it is great that the next Labour government would support our vision and help us take this even further.

Harnessing the power of our residents and communities has been absolutely central to our vision in Lambeth. This willingness to hand over real resources and power to our communities means that at a time when our budgets are being slashed by almost 50 per cent, and elsewhere in the country services are being shut down, we are offering our residents a new deal.

We have totally changed the power dynamic with our residents, allowing them to get involved at every step of the way in designing and delivering local services and improving social outcomes for their communities. It is about working together, giving people the tools to deliver projects and services they want and in the way they want.

It is also about changing the way we think. Instead of asking how we make cuts of 50 per cent, we are thinking about how we most meaningfully spend 50 per cent.

And we have removed the silos that would have traditionally been a barrier to that. Instead we have moved to a commissioning approach which allows us to focus on our outcomes rather than outputs. It is about asking ‘Does this service help deliver the core community aims we want it to?’ and then making better use of that evidence to prioritise what we do.

This is what could be happening across the country. A shift in the central-local dynamic, and the way we and the services we either deliver or commission are funded and evaluated would mean we could do more work like this; supporting the community to design and deliver the services they want and need and judging them by the outcomes they have on those communities, not what they do on paper.

In terms of collaboration, as is mentioned in the report, in Lambeth we have already collaborated with other neighbouring boroughs like Southwark and Lewisham to try to provide better jobs and employment support. This collaboration has been a great first step, but with the kinds of powers described in the report – such as being able to run the work programme locally – we could take this a whole stage further and achieve much more for our residents.

We could be more responsive to the specific profile of need in our community – helping us, in sum, to support or deliver interventions that are far more likely to work.

Furthermore, the work we are embarking on with Southwark through our childcare commission chaired by Tessa Jowell would be well supported by the vision articulated in this report.

We want to work together as inner-London boroughs to explore how we can make childcare more accessible and affordable to the parents in our boroughs. As the authors of this report are well aware, lack of childcare is a huge barrier to meaningful employment for many people, and adds a great burden to the everyday cost of living for many families.

We want to tackle this, and with the kinds of powers to act as a childcare broker this report advocates, we would have much more of a fighting chance of doing so.

On prevention, this has already been high on our agenda for some time. It has had to be. As this report agrees, we cannot afford to ignore the root cause of social problems in our communities. And early intervention negates the need for more expensive interventions later on. It is that simple.

Our work on this has really begun to speed up. We recently won a £38m grant from the Big Lottery Fund to support the Lambeth Early Action Partnership, which aims to help over 10,000 children over its 10-year lifespan, by using evidence-based interventions with measurable gauges on outcomes to help improve the early communication, development and nutrition of children and babies in Lambeth.

The steps this report advocates would support projects like this, and in turn restore some clarity to early years provision. Labour made great gains with the Sure Start agenda, but it has been woefully derailed under the coalition government since 2010.

We badly need to get it back on track, and local governments can only do so much to intervene without central will – or more importantly, genuine devolution of powers and funding to do it ourselves.

Many of us in Labour local government are already doing what we can to empower our communities and achieve the kind of social justice outcomes this report advocates – but even when we know we are best placed to deliver this agenda, we often find ourselves stymied by a lack of powers or the ability to manage our own financial arrangements.

If this report become a reality we could go a long way to changing that. I feel excited by this vision as articulated by Labour and I strongly hope we can make it happen.

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