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Alex Bailey: Our rallying cry for those who still believe in councils

Alex Bailey
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“In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world individuals, communities, businesses and civic society need points of stability and platforms on which they can build their lives, opportunities, prosperity, wellbeing and social endeavours.”

Should any local authority three-year plan start like this? In an age of austerity and significant cuts to budgets isn’t it better to hunker down, not put pen to paper at all? Why make yourself a hostage to fortune? 

Here at Adur DC and Worthing BC we don’t think like that. The opening paragraph of this column was taken from a chapter of Platforms For Our Places, a call-to-arms document published at the beginning of this year after being adopted by both councils I serve (the district of Adur and the borough of Worthing merged service functions a full ten years ago this year) after real debate on the dilemmas we faced. 

That sentence acknowledges we live in rapidly changing and difficult times but is a rallying cry to those of us who still believe that local authorities matter. For who provides the essential platforms with more skill, understanding of local needs and political accountability than adaptive, data-led councils?

In globalised economies, the ideas of municipal beneficence and of effective handed-down programmes for prosperity and welfare have long gone. But do all our citizens fully understand this? We may regret some of the passing of this but we should welcome the chances it also offers. 

Drawing on the best of our municipal pasts (think Chamberlain in Birmingham creating platforms for functioning cities) and fusing with the opportunities real and digital of connected places and futures, we identify the critical platforms for a small part of the Sussex Coast. 

We identify five key platforms on which all our work will be focused. These are our financial economies, our social economies, stewarding our natural resources, services and solutions for our places, and leadership of our places.

As for those places? We’re flexible and we certainly don’t define them as all the space within our boundaries. It could even be the pub or the allotment. But what we do say is that we can provide where needed, enable more often and just keep out of the way when appropriate.

Already the message is spreading through our communication channels, through our elected members and as importantly via our staff. Encouragingly communities want to be involved and lead us. We’ve already proved that.

But this is no ’get out of jail free’ card; no ‘opt-out’ in the age of complexity. Platforms includes 20 pages of firm commitments on which we will be judged over the next three years.

We don’t claim to be be bigger than we are or to have reinvented the wheel. But we know where we need to be heading and Platforms For Our Places is our guide for that journey.

Alex Bailey, chief executive, Adur DC and Worthing BC

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Bearing in mind the diverse and ever changing issues facing the public sector is it not time we had a Royal Commission on the provision of public services and their place in the 21st century?

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