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Many local authorities are uninspired by the rhetoric around big society. However they are not some local big state, refusing to change. They are embracing new ways of working and a service pluralism based on outcomes which deliver on protecting the most vulnerable, social growth and inequality.
Far too much debate around local government and big society has focussed on crude caricatures. It’s time to create new outcome focussed relationships and the social sector and local government have to be friends in this endeavour - not foes.
Local government does a special place stewardship job. We risk losing this if the vast majority of services are outsourced. We need to have a greater debate on the risks.
Good policy is never enough, we also need plans. Many of our local economies, will continue to fail or lose their edge, unless we start linking up local economic policy into strategy, considering the wider aspects of place.
Local government is rethinking its community cohesion policy. New research indicates that local and central government must maintain investment or jeopardise the big society project and local economic success.
We need to transform our public services. To achieve this we will need innovative partnerships, joining up the public, commercial and social sectors. Perhaps we need to reinvent Local Strategic Partnerships as public innovation partnerships - locally owned think tanks for public service innovation and reform.
Innovation and new ways of delivering public services are essential. However, we must not unleash an abuse of cooperative traditions, which fragment and denude the standards of public service delivery. We cannot create a hollowed out local government who can no longer effectively steward the destiny of local places.
For all the talk about big society, small state we need a big awareness about what we could be losing. Many of things we cherish about our community life in Britain is not unbreakabe. It needs to be shielded, grown and nurtured.
The government wishes to rebalance local economies away from public sector employment. For it to happen the government and local authorities are going to have to seriously consider the mechanisms and resources required to do this. The market will not do it on its own.
Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), need to now get on and start thinking about what they need to do. In this they need to reject the economics of the past and acknowledge that economic complexity is the norm and that they need to be the hub for an adaptable local economy
LEPS, could bring about a real shift change in the culture of local economic thinking and rebalancing our economy. However, they are in danger of making the same mistakes of the past. We are jumping into debates about form, without looking deeply at function and the relationships within our local economies.
The big society could be a bold and brave idea. However, cuts may jeopardise this project before it even gets going. The cuts are heralding a shrinking state and a growth in commercial delivery of state services. Government needs to ensure big business does not crowd out the civil society.
We need to have a plan for cuts. Short term gain through cuts could result in longer term pain if we do not consider and think about the coinsequences and pernicious affects the cuts may have. We cannot leave local government ill equipped to deal with future economic turbulence, environmental change and social events.
In economic terms we need flexibility which allows local authority areas to work together and do different things at various geographic scales. For this to happen, we cannot get so hung up about fixed institutions at specific scales
We cannot let city centres suck the economic identity out of our local ‘secondary’ places, or let the economic development growth model of the city centre weaken local economic regeneration.
The local state we are in - requires local economic thinking to start paying attention to inequality, poverty, low income and worklessness and families and communities who are suffering. Cameron’s speech gets part of this in his praise for and call for ‘helping communities, families and individuals’ in a ‘big society’. However real change on poverty requires coordinated place based action. Mr Cameron - we need a brave and ‘big’ local state to do this.
The notion of ‘More for less’ is being touted around as a means of dealing with public sector cuts. It will not be enough to avert a new wave of social and urban decline and all its consequences.