Public services are at a turning point

17th January, 2013 3:57 pm

Public services are at a turning point. The money’s run out just as our ageing population and rising unemployment mean there is more demand for social support than ever before. We need to find ways to do different for less, because, if we don’t, those people who need public services the most will find them salami-sliced away until they no longer exist – and the political right will take this manufactured failure as an excuse to extend privatisation.

In a very real sense, public services must adapt or die. Over 20 leading Labour councils are exploring how to make public services work better for the people they exist to serve by using cooperative approaches to transform them. A new publication, Towards Cooperative Councils, explores how this movement is developing. Taking examples from across the country, the publication shows how far Labour’s cooperative councils have come in reshaping local services by rethinking the relationship between citizens and the public services they rely on.

We can run public services differently by making them more directly accountable to the people they serve. State ownership is not the only form of public ownership, and accountability to the state is not the only form of democratic accountability. There are viable alternative forms of public ownership, accountability and control, and the key to making these work is empowerment – shifting power from the providers of public services to the people who use them, giving citizens the power they need to make the change they want to see.

Doing that is not simple; it requires a revolution in public services because empowering users means turning public services upside-down. It requires a total rethink of what a council is and what a council does, and it offers lessons for how a future Labour government might reshape public services more widely by extending people power.

The publication shows how Rochdale has mutualised its entire housing stock so that tenants have the power to improve housing services and the places where they live. Lambeth is putting its youth services under community control so that individual neighbourhoods can choose the services that will steer vulnerable young people away from crime and towards a better future. Stevenage is involving local people in deciding how to spend community budgets. In all these cases, power and control is shifting from town halls to citizens – and by doing that the quality of services improves.

The cooperative revolution in public services has already begun. It is an approach that can help people unlock their destinies by giving them back control over their lives, and its effect is greatest for the most marginalised and excluded communities. As Ed Miliband says in his introduction to the publication:

“There is a hard-headed case for this kind of bottom-up decision-making. Often it is the best way to make sure that change reflects what residents want, or to make sure that services are protected. But it serves our values too. At the heart of One Nation politics is a belief in binding people together as a community. Often the services that are chosen or protected are the very services that do that. In that way, cooperative councils can be a direct means to building One Nation. Instilling an ethos of the common good, emphasising what we share, and beginning to rebuild the ties of community and solidarity that encourage people to spend time together and look after one another.”

This publication might just offer us a glimpse of what a future One Nation Labour government looks like, a future that’s being forged right now in Labour councils across the country.

Steve Reed is the Labour MP for Croydon North and former leader of Lambeth Council. You can download “Towards co-operative councils” here.

  • AlanGiles

    “We need to find ways to do different for less,”

    Wasn’t that the idea behind Cameron’s “Big Society” nonsense?

    Sounds fine in theory. But in practice…………..

  • JoeDM

    As Liam Byrne’s note said in 2010:

    Dear Chief Secretary,
    I’m afraid there is no money.
    Kind regards – and good luck!
    Liam

    So we know where to put the blame: Crash Gordon and Ed Balls.

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    Leaving aside all of the party “Punch & Judy” bashing of each other, this article (along with many others) does point towards a very uncomfortable truth. We simply cannot afford, on current projections, to continue to afford the lifestyle we have collectively voted for ourselves in the last 60 years, with both main parties taking it in turns to pretend the problem does not exist. Whether it is unfunded tax cuts (or tax cuts funded by privatisations), or unfunded welfare extensions, both have the same effect. The future projections for people of working age becoming a minority of the population will only make things worse.

    Something must change, and radically. What should it be? Increased taxation, or decreased welfare? Increased efficiencies, or decreased expenditure? Import millions of vigorous new workers but lose our identity as the price for doing so? I do not know, but it is predictable that if we do not do something, our children and indeed grandchildren will not enjoy our levels of state support. This article does make some good points and should be supported, but there is very little that mutualised and localised public service provision can do about “the big picture” of demographics.

Latest

  • Comment Soft on welfare? The challenge of a popular welfare policy that works

    Soft on welfare? The challenge of a popular welfare policy that works

    We are being told that Labour lost votes through being seen as “too soft” on welfare. But we must understand the complexity of public attitudes in this area, and the difficulties of reconciling these attitudes with policy that works, and with the reality of the hardship caused by a “tough” policy. It must be Labour’s role to lead the debate on benefits, as well as follow public opinion. We can challenge the misinformation behind policies like Universal Credit and the […]

    Read more →
  • News Mary Creagh says failure to act in Syria “opened the door to ISIS”

    Mary Creagh says failure to act in Syria “opened the door to ISIS”

    Shadow International Development Secretary Mary Creagh has said that the failure of western governments to act against Bashar al-Assad in 2013 helped give rise to jihadist group ISIS. Writing for Progress Magazine, Creagh describes the vote that stopped the possibility of UK intervention in Syria as a “shock defeat” that “reverberated around the world”. Following the use of chemical weapons in Syria two years ago, the Government put forward a motion to begin military action against Assad’s regime. Creagh outlines the series […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Workers under the hammer: Sotheby’s workers need all the help they can get

    Workers under the hammer: Sotheby’s workers need all the help they can get

    Last week, I had the privilege to speak on a panel a number of women speaking about their experience of being in low paid work in London. Two days later, one of these women, I can’t name her for fairly obvious reasons although it still somehow feels wrong not to, lost her job simply for protesting for better pay. The common thread in the very moving stories – as the women described the long hours, poor conditions and inadequate rates […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Tessa Jowell slams the government for failing to build London Olympic legacy

    Tessa Jowell slams the government for failing to build London Olympic legacy

    Tessa Jowell has slammed the government for failing to build on the London Olympic Games to encourage children to play sport. Jowell is one of five people in the running to be Labour’ candidate for London Mayor. 10 years after London won their bid to host the Games, the mayoral hopeful,who was Minister for the Olympics, told the Guardian: “Instead of a generation of children being transformed by sport a generation of children have been robbed of the chance to discover […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured The idea of Europe

    The idea of Europe

    Almost 31 years ago the French President, Francois Mitterrand, and the West German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, visited the former battlefields of Verdun in north eastern France.It was a moment of deep symbolism: here, where as many as 750,000 men had died during World War One, the French and (West) German leaders held hands as the Marseillaise was played. Both had been personally affected by warfare. Kohl had lost his older brother during World War Two, while Mitterrand’s war years had […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit