In Lambeth we’re becoming the co-operative council. This could’ve been just a good idea but for us it is about something real.
It is about shifting the relationship with local people to one that is more equitable - where power is shared and citizens are central to all we do. At the heart of this is community-led commissioning.
The idea is that local communities - we’re still thinking whether it can be neighbourhoods or issues that bring different people together - genuinely drive commissioning.
We knew it would be hard, but nothing prepared me for how hard. The challenge comes from all angles.
How can we protect the interests of those who are less able to come forward and participate? How can we maximise the benefit that professional expertise brings to a service, while at the same time enabling residents to take control more directly?
How can we secure the kind of economies of scale that managing issues with a strategic view brings, while really moving to a very local level of decision making?
With all these challenges, it would be easy to lose focus. So we’re starting small. We’ve started encouraging officers to move away from the processes and procedures we all gain comfort from. We’re supporting them to build new relationships and seek out ways of responding positively to all our residents.
This goes far beyond ‘consultation’ or ‘engagement’ events and activities. The ethos has to be embedded in how we operate and the way in which we work, so that residents are ‘at the table’, alongside the professionals, making the decisions co-operatively.
We’re starting by co-producing our library service, and the way we develop our housing strategy. We’re aiming for 1,000 members in our co-operative youth trust by April, so they, rather than the professionals alone, can start to determine - and commission - how youth services are delivered.
It continues to surprise me how difficult that can be, but at its simplest this is about getting council officers to have the courage to say yes.
Sophia Looney is director policy, equalities and performance, Lambeth LBC