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Editor's comment: Whitehall shift will bring opportunities

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Throughout the history of local government there have been periods of great opportunity, but none perhaps as palpable as now.

The mood in Whitehall has already begun to shift, with the government now more prepared to look outside its own corridors for answers to the most pressing issues facing the nation. For local government this presents an opportunity to offer some of those solutions and ultimately shape the future relationship between citizen and state.

'Time to move forward'

The message from Whitehall as we move into a new political and legislative season is not to wait for central government direction, but to grasp the opportunity and lead the way forward. Just as councils are becoming place-shapers in their communities, there is also a chance to shape their own roles both in Whitehall and with their partners back in their communities.

This is just one of the issues facing local government which place it at the centre of many of the challenges facing the country.

As community leaders, councils must grapple with migration and its impact on cohesion, funding and infrastructure. There is the problem of growing numbers of disaffected young people being drawn toward extremism. Internally, local authorities must also square the circle of providing more personalised services while meeting ever-tighter efficiency targets.

Summit will focus on biggest challenges

The first day of the Summit focuses on one of the biggest challenges facing local government: community cohesion. Here the leadership role of councils will be tested as they are increasingly required to reach out to all the disparate parts of the community and pull them together, from traditional service partners to the hard-to-reach groups. This means developing new ways of working and leading local partnerships; the issue is: are councils prepared for such a major cultural shift?

The threat of radicalism and extremism will also be debated, as will the role of councils in re-engaging with isolated communities.

The summit will also discuss the comprehensive spending review, which will establish the financial landscape for authorities until 2011. The governmentÍs strong commitment to housing, health and education will mean less in the pot for other services and on top of efficiency savings the comprehensive spending review is likely to impose yet more cuts across local government. The issue for councils is how to protect front-line services and whether more creative ways of shared services and partnerships are enough to meet challenging financial demands.

This supplement explores some of the themes being debated at the Summit, which is supported by our partners Agilisys, Hay, Civica, Eversheds, Serco, BT, PWC, Capita and Northgate.

We hope that this supplement and our Summit will help start the new debate around the future of local government, one which we can continue within LGC for months to come.

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