Attention local councillors: it’s time to empower communities
Community Collaborator award winners announced
LGiU have named the UK’s leading Community Collaborators in a brand new award for councillors sponsored by Local Trust. Jessica Wenban-Smith (head of communications, Local Trust) reports from the LGiU C’llr awards ceremony on how local government can respond to the challenges and opportunities of collaboration with residents.
The C’llr awards event was packed with councillors who are grappling with delivering services on a reduced budget. That’s not an enviable position to be in. After all, who wants to choose between giving money to a library or giving it to a social centre for older people, knowing one has to lose out?
But aside from the heartening and powerful sense of public duty shared by many councillors recognised through LGiU’s awards, even those who are hard-headed bean counters may like to count the benefits of community collaboration.
Collaboration in action
Talking to some of the councillors attending the event, I had the chance to share stories of how Big Local areas often find ingenious ways to work with councils, and also asked about their own experiences of collaboration. A few had to pause before they could recall an example, but many immediately shared stories as wide ranging as participatory budgeting and community cooking. Although there were warm words, few of the councillors I spoke to were wise to the financial and service benefits of collaboration.
There is clearly still work to do to raise the visibility and value of bringing communities into decision making processes. Last year, at the LGA conference, we shared 8 things we’ve learned about devolving power to communities. These now need to become our mantra in all conversations with local decision makers as we shift from thinking of public services as a drain on resources, to seeing it as a social investment that pays off. At the moment I especially like number five: “services can work better when users take control”.
Thankfully there are many councillors who are already wise to this and leading the way. The C’llr award category for Community Collaborator, sponsored by Local Trust, celebrates their work and shone the spotlight on 6 councillors who are working with residents to make extraordinary things happen. The winner, C’llr Lisa Rutter, worked with local providers and volunteers to set up dementia cafes in Barnet, and used her time as Mayor to raise awareness and funds.
Councillors in Big Local areas
We’re also especially proud of the shortlisted candidates who were nominated for their work supporting Big Local. C’llr Brian Kenny, from Wirral Council, has played a vital role in making sure that the Council delivers on promises made to Beechwood, Ballantyne & Bidstone Village Big Local and has supported the area by attending meetings, building relationships and gaining media coverage for a Job Support Programme, Loan Shark Awareness Week and Healthy Lifestyle Project. Described as a passionate and proactive supporter of Big Local, he has also helped to release Council funds of £160,000 for environmental investment, often working behind the scenes by connecting and persuading people that this community really matters.
In Medway, Kent, 2 councillors from opposing political corners were jointly nominated for the Community Collaborator award because of the way they have worked together to support Arches Local. C’llrs Vince Maple and Andrew Mackness turned around a relationship with Medway Council and converted it into a true collaboration by opening doors and facilitating conversations. This has resulted in the creation of a pocket park, the clean-up and transformation of the Luton Arches gateway, and a platform for Arches Local to engage a much wider range of local organisations in supporting their future plans. Their commitment to the area really shines through, and brings other people with them.
Return on investment
Big Local areas such as these have provided multiple examples of stretching funds in smart ways and leveraging new resources, while putting the needs of local people first. There are early signs that improved health, skills and confidence, employment opportunities and better housing are among the benefits that Big Local areas are bringing home.
We need more evidence like this to persuade unconverted councillors to start empowering local communities. The awards have shown how councillors have the power to transform areas by building real relationships with residents, enabling them to make decisions and true collaboration – let’s have more of that please.