As the 20th LGC Awards open for entries, LGC looks back at a selection of Council of the Year winners
South Somerset DC – 1997
In the past 18 years, the face of local government has changed as technology, reduced funding and community priorities have changed. South Somerset DC remains financially strong and debt free and our heart remains in getting as close to our communities as possible.
Some of the working practices that went along with our four area committees, which have devolved authority and some devolved budgets, have been forced to change; no longer do we have large economic development and community teams. The operation has slimmed down but not the ethos that members ascribed to in those heady days of 1997.
We remain committed to retaining our four area committees, with every member involved in planning decisions in their area. Each area has retained a development team with the emphasis on economic development and community support, be that neighbourhood plans, community land trusts, healthy living initiatives or youth groups. Members discuss issues such as community safety in their local area and decisions on grants to support community groups remain a devolved responsibility. We have retained the best features that put our communities at the heart of local decision making while delivering efficiencies.
Combined authorities are becoming a reality, but big is not always beautiful. County councils are often too remote from their smaller communities when it comes to the rural areas and the jury is still out on the effectiveness of local government in some of the big rural unitary authorities such as Cornwall and Wiltshire.
District councils can become more efficient but they will cease to be of any value if they become too strategic and remote from their communities. A district council that fulfils its role at a local level will continue to be valued. We continue to have a clear focus on four key elements: health, homes, jobs and the environment. As long as we are delivering on those priorities, there will still be a role for district councils in 20 years’ time.
We are proud to have been recognised as a ground-breaking authority, even now. The award sent a powerful message to our officers and members that they were right to go the extra mile in delivering public services to our residents’ doorsteps.
Ric Pallister (Lib Dem), leader, South Somerset DC
Blackburn with Darwen BC – 2002 (jointly with Camden LBC) and 2011
The year 2011 was the second time we won the award; the first time was in 2002. In 2011, it didn’t feel much like a time for celebration because it was a traumatic time for the organisation but it showed we were achieving for our borough despite exceptional challenges.
It helped improve our national reputation and was independent verification we are a trusted organisation. This has helped us to buck the national trend and bring much-needed resources into the borough.
It is still a very tough environment and we make no bones about it; things will continue to be extremely difficult.
But we pride ourselves here at Blackburn with Darwen on our ability to meet those challenges by innovating, by doing things differently and by working with partners to make sure we are still delivering the best we can for our residents and communities.
Since the award, a number of key developments have opened which greatly assist with one of our main focuses: growth and prosperity. A number of other developments such as the cathedral quarter are due for completion soon and continue to transform the borough.
We are really driving forward with our key agendas of demand management and integrated health and social care.
Despite the tough times, we believe you have to look at the positives and be forward thinking.
We are nurturing a culture where people are not afraid to come up with ideas. If it is a good idea which will make this borough a better place, we listen to it and see how we can put it into practice or support it.
We call it the ‘your call’ approach and we hope every member of staff, every councillor, every resident, every business, and every partner takes this ethos on board. It is only by working together that we can overcome the challenges we face.
It is no secret that councils simply cannot do business the way they have always done it otherwise they face ruin. They need to change and adapt.
We are certainly trying to do that. We are watching the development of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority with great interest and indeed discussions are under way between Lancashire leaders to explore the possibility of a combined authority here.
Harry Catherall, chief executive, Blackburn with Darwen BC
Leicestershire CC – 2009
The council’s national reputation for excellence and peer respect has been further established since winning our award in 2009.
In all probability, county councils will be embraced within a wider structure over the coming years, since recognition of economies of scale and boundary and cross-border issues, which the move towards combined authorities is recognising, will come more to the fore.
Winning the Council of the Year Award gave us the opportunity for a deserved internal celebration and it was good to receive so much external recognition of our success.
John Sinnott, chief executive, Leicestershire CC
Southend-on-Sea BC - 2012
We’ve had to manage an incredible amount of change since 2012, not least meeting the challenge of delivering more for less, but we’ve met it head on.
We’ve become more prosperous. Our investment in infrastructure has generated more private sector investment in the borough. We have continued with major investments in our highways networks, secured the only city deal in the south-east, created a business incubation hub and encouraged culture-led regeneration.
We’ve become cleaner, winning awards for our clean streets and improved rates of recycling.
We’ve become safer. Crime has reduced, we have gained Essex’s first purple flag for night-time economy, and we’re finding more children permanent homes and helping more adults with learning disabilities to maintain independence in their own homes.
We’ve become healthier, with more people taking health checks and staff sickness absence on the decrease.
The role of unitary authorities will be enhanced in future, with continued moves on two-tier areas to become single-tier in the longer term. In the short/medium term, there will be continued devolution of powers from central government; something we will continue to monitor as we explore the possibility of working with neighbouring authorities to create a combined authority in south Essex. Collaboration with partners, even greater integration with health, and continued innovation will be ever more critical.
Having won the award gives us a great sense of pride. Southend is increasingly seen by our partners, residents, businesses and stakeholders as a place that delivers.
Winning the award has spurred us on to several other big wins. Our services continue to be recognised nationally. Notably, we have an Investors in People Gold Award; we are in the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents’ 5 Star safety category; and we are consistently in the Stonewall top 100 employers.
We have secured over £40m of Big Lottery funding to improve outcomes for young children; attracted central government funding for highways improvements; and secured over £60m in city deal funding.
Winning the award was not the end of the journey. We’ll never stop striving to do better for our residents and businesses. However, the award assessment gave us a critical review of our practice and winning gave us affirmation that we were on the right path.
Rob Tinlin, chief executive, Southend-on-Sea BC
Glasgow City Council, winner 2014
Since winning the award last year, Glasgow’s reputation has shot up. We’re seeing more tourists, more conference visitors and more businesses relocating. Being awarded the first city deal in Scotland has allowed us to look at the economy for the whole metropolitan district and we’re confident it can do so much more than before. On the downside, funding pressures remain, but we’re not alone in that.
City councils should and, I think, will increasingly be responsible for more than their statutory duties. I think we’ll be leading the whole of the public sector in working together to make life better for citizens and grow the city’s economy.
Winning the award has meant a huge amount to staff. It’s really rare for council workers to be externally praised and, as we carry on through difficult times, it’s helped people to see that we’re on the right track.
Annemarie O’Donnell, chief executive, Glasgow City Council
The LGC Awards 2016 open for entries on 2 July. To enter, visit our awards website.