The launch of a new locality based approach by Swindon Council whereby each of seven areas – formerly known as clusters grouped by political ward – now has a designated ‘Locality Lead’ officer to work to bring local councillors and community groups together more closely. Des Morgan from North Swindon, right, casts a critical eye on another initiative to make the local council more relevant.
Local Government in the town is at a crossroad, it appears unsure of its place in society and is desperately trying to reinvent itself, again. It is the word ‘again’ which should cause residents of Swindon most concern.
That the world is an ever changing set of scenarios is well understood by most of us but there are some things which remain as constants in our lives, things which give us comfort that whatever happens they will always be there, the NHS for example.
Similarly local councils provided the basic structures which enable us to conduct our lives in some sort of order, from the collection of rubbish, to the provision of community facilities and more besides.
We are now faced with yet another attempt to define the relationship between ‘the council’ and the citizen – you and me – to make the relationship more intimate.
I am sure the Locality Leads are, in the words of council leader Rod Bluh, ‘well meaning.’ Only time will reveal how successfully they interact with elected members and offer any useful contribution beyond being a reference point.
It sometimes seems that the council has an affliction of constant self examination based on a desire to be better – but only on their own terms.
As we witness on a regular basis, the council really does not like engagement, unless it is founded on the basis that everything suggested by them is right and therefore by default any other opinion must be considered flawed.
We all want public services that are more locally sensitive where local communities are actually involved in setting and delivering priorities. But let’s be honest, that is not what the council wants, whatever it might say.If the politicians and officers really believe local communities are key in deciding and delivering priorities, the need for:
1. greater transparency;
2. a capacity to listen, and
3. an absolute willingness to change, is essential.
I suggest all three are pie in the sky aspirations. Supporting and helping communities to help themselves can only go so far, and the limits are carefully controlled to ensure that there remains a dependency on the provider.
We shall wait to see whether the latest shuffling of deckchairs is anything other than yet another attempt to rebrand the same tired and worn out model. What’s the bet that within the next three years Localities will be old hat?
From swindonlink.com – 22 February
Swindon boosts the importance of locality
Swindon Council introduced a new policy on 1 January designed to make decisions by councillors and officers based more closely on the views being expressed in the many neighbourhoods around the town. Matt Gott, Board Director for Localities, explains how it works.
We have all seen on the news that 2012 and beyond is going to be a challenging year for everyone because of the economic situation – and Swindon is no exception.
It is clear that given decreasing resources and increasing demand, the council’s success can no longer depend on a traditional view of service delivery. It will depend on the involvement of service users and citizens.
Our locality approach is a clear commitment to shifting the way the council works so that it is closer to local people. Six newly appointed Locality Lead Officers are already working closely with elected members in their areas and the conversation starts now. They will aim to improve information, understanding and awareness of how the council, and partners, work so that people feel able to get involved in decisions and services that affect them most, when they want to.
The locality leads will seek to generate more conversations, more often, with more people, concerning the things people care about. This has to be the starting point for getting better insight and reinforcing the idea that the best outcomes are the result of a relationship between the council, partners and people, and not a service transaction.
Over time we will see greater delegation and local decision making. We will focus on joining up services with the wider public sector, and with other providers, at the local level.
We will look to connect people and groups more effectively, nurture and support community-led initiatives, invest in local enterprise and encourage people to get more involved in decision making.
A locality approach will also help us to understand neighbourhoods and places better and share information effectively. We want to overlay the data we have about neighbourhoods – health, education, skills, employment, etc. – with local stories. This is the only way that we will make better decisions with scarcer resources and get better outcomes from services.
The very nature of a local approach means that different things will work in different areas. Along with a steadfast commitment to the locality approach is an acceptance that we will need to learn as we go and change accordingly.
Find out which locality you live in at http://bit.ly/swindonconnect
Pictured: Taking on new roles, the Locality Leaders cast list, from left, Kathryn Langdown – North Swindon, Nazakat Ali – East, Paula Harrison – West, Andy Reeves – North Central, Mark Walker – Central, Matt Gott – Board Director Localities, Jackie Moyles – South, Andrea Barratt – North East, Pam Gough – North East