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Councils share best practice abroad

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The Commonwealth Local Government Forum has twinned UK councils with those abroad.

Giving practical procurement help

Leeds City Council officers have been working with their opposite numbers in Durban , South Africa, with the officers from the UK helping their African colleagues to prepare a set of documents for procurement which are now being used across the region.

Karen Murgatroyd , senior project officer for international relations, says the link with Durban dates back to 1998, when Leeds councillors who had been active in the anti-apartheid movement wanted to give practical help to the new South Africa.

Leeds initially ran projects around safety and security, recreation and culture, and Durban later chose economic development as the area in which it needed help.

“We looked at the whole of procurement procedure, getting all their departments to feed into a central database about which suppliers they were buying from, since no one knew that in total,” Ms Murgatroyd says.

“There had not been any procurement policy so they were missing out on economies of scale.”

There were staff exchanges between Durban and Leeds although, as Ms Murgatroyd points out, “once the initial contact is made much of it can be done by email because the relationships are in place”.

Leeds hopes to continue the project by helping Durban with e-procurement. The UK officers have looked at specific operating procedures and have developed a best practice guide.

Working to create jobs

Ekurhuleni is an area near Johannesburg airport, in South Africa, with plenty of job opportunities but also a low skills base and high unemployment. The local province authorities decided to build on links with Lewisham LBC and form a partnership to address the problems.

The partnership included a job brokerage scheme, a job-placement programme, and work on youth employment. Lewisham has long-standing links with Ekurhuleni dating back to anti-apartheid campaigns.

Commonwealth Local Government Forum project officer Lucy Slack explains: “There is a real problem with lack of skills, which was a difficult inheritance from the apartheid era. The Gauteng province government, which has responsibility for this work, was interested in what had gone on in Lewisham with job brokerage, and visited to talk to the Thames Gateway projects and local job centres.”

Delegates also looked at a scheme that encourages employment at the Bluewater retail centre and at Lewisham Hospital.

“There have been a series of exchange visits and real progress has been made, both in job creation and in supporting people to take those jobs,” Ms Slack says. “Lewisham has learned from Ekurhuleni’s experience of working with very small businesses, so it flows both ways.”

Ekurhuleni has also implemented an excellence awards programme, similar to that of Lewisham, to boost staff morale. It was set a target of creating 1,000 new jobs by the country’s Department of Labour this year, which was met by July. Ekurhuleni believes it is on track to meet its target of halving local unemployment by 2014.

Sharing urban renewal

The link between Glasgow City Council and Amathole in South Africa arose from a civic visit to Amathole for the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy.

Amathole wanted to share Glasgow’s experience in urban renewal and business development. Glasgow has turned around much of the decline the city had suffered over the last 30 years as traditional industries faded.

Delegates visited Glasgow and saw parallels in its experience of moving from a manufacturing to a service economy base. A project was devised in which Glasgow provided training in project management, local economic development, marketing, tourism and environmental improvements.

Glasgow discovered that regular contact was essential to ensure that a programme designed in Scotland would be effective in South Africa, while Amathole concluded that high-level political support was essential to ensure the sustainability of the project.

A report on the project noted: “It is important not to be afraid of committing mistakes as this leads to doing nothing. In the development arena, one should remember that the finer detail of planning is not always necessary.”

Future work will concentrate on economic development in the Butterworth area of Amathole, where a former industrial area needs regeneration and Glasgow can draw on its experience with the Clyde Gateway project.

Improving tax collection

An innovative three-way partnership saw Hammersmith & Fulham LBC work with councils in both India and Ghana. It examined the role of revenue collection systems, and how improving these can make it easier for a council to address local concerns through increased resources.

Peter Savage , who led the work while assistant chief executive at Hammersmith & Fulham, has since left for Greenwich LBC, which agreed to him completing the project.

Its main focus was to increase tax and rate collection rates within Wasa Amenfi West in Ghana to finance local programmes, especially in health and education. Hammersmith & Fulham wanted to be involved in a project in Ghana because of the presence of a large Ghanaian community in the borough. Meanwhile, local authority staff from the Indian region of Surat were already working with Wasa Amenfi.

Wasa Amenfi West had an extremely complex range of taxes including property rates and income tax, some of which proved uneconomical to collect. The councils agreed that computer technology would offer enormous assistance to tax collectors in Ghana, but would need specialised adaptation.

Software was chosen and tested last summer, then piloted in two towns. Ghanaian officers are confident tax collection rates will eventually increase by half.

The collaboration has led to work on agricultural cooperatives operating in Surat and Wasa Amenfi West, a fertile area where high-value crops grow easily.

Boosting city development

Cardiff Council entered into a partnership with Cochin , a city on the western coast of India, after the withdrawal of Brighton & Hove City Council from the project.

Cochin had commissioned a number of strategies for the city’s development, but had difficulty in moving from the planning to implementation stages, which meant that these had become disjointed and unco-ordinated. For example, local development plans appeared to have been created before a strategic master plan was in place, which made it difficult to respond appropriately to growth pressures.

Cardiff staff were able to help Cochin to develop a strategic framework to improve corporate governance and promote a culture of business planning in the council. Expertise was also shared on more tangible projects, such as waste segregation and creating an education pack on the benefits of recycling.

Cardiff also helped devise a city ‘master plan’ to 2026, which sets out the policies and investment needed to achieve Cochin’s development targets in everything from water supply to tourism.

The partners have identified opportunities for future collaboration in information technology, building on experience from the Connect2Cardiff call centre. An important spin-off for Cardiff has been learning from Cochin about how it handles neighbourhood engagement.

Rachel Jones , strategy and partnerships manager, says: “Cochin has a neighbourhood engagement model based on area committees that we are keen to explore. It is quite well developed with area budgets, and we can learn from that.”

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