By Tudor Evans
The Coalition Government’s definition of localism appears to be freedom for local government to make its cuts in any way it pleases.
We need to detoxify the term from the way the Tories have used it. They are distorting a concept which should be about enabling councils to work collaboratively with their local communities and about local government helping join up the competing demands of government departments and the community on the ground.
As a campaigning party we understand that even within our own areas people want different things from each other and local communities and local councils are in a far better position than government departments to understand these local needs. It is about making politics more personalised and politicians more responsible. True localism makes political parties more relevant than under the command and control approach.
That’s what the growing number of councils such as Plymouth are trying to achieve by adopting a co-operative approach for local public services, which involves putting more power into the hands of local people.
The next Labour government must repeat the successes of the last Labour government but what it should not do again is to see local councils as an arm of the government. There’s far more innovation and effective delivery going on every day in local authorities than we are given credit for. This time our Labour Government needs to recognise that. To paraphrase JFK, we should be asking not what local government can do to help the national government, but what can national government do to help local government.
In Plymouth we’ve already embarked on a major change since being elected last May and the focus of the Council is to build a co-operative approach to collaborating with our local communities. A co-operative approach is at the heart of our 100 manifesto pledges, which are now embedded in the council’s corporate plan.
As we face the impact of a dire economic situation, welfare reform and the Coalition’s draconian cuts to the public sector our aim is to try and meet needs of all sections of the community and to have fairness are the core of everything we do. We’ve developed a child poverty strategy, created a cooperative model for schools, agreed an older person’s charter and worked hard to open up the democratic process.
We are working closely with health colleagues to reduce health inequalities in the city. It is not acceptable that someone living in one area of the city is more likely to die 13 years earlier than someone living in another part.
We are also committed to developing economic growth, with a particular focus on jobs for young people. We recently launched the 1,000 Club with the aim of getting work opportunities for 1,000 young people in the city. We are setting up a community economic development trust in the north of the city, where young people are more likely to be out of work than the rest of the city. And we are working to ensure people do not miss out on high speed internet connections because of where they live in the city.
We are excited about plans to hold a Fairness Commission later this year to explore how fairness is embedded in not just everything the council does, but also in our work with public and private sector colleagues.
We’re achieving a lot by working with the local community and if this is what we can achieve while dealing with a Government hell bent on destroying the public sector, just think what we could do together with a Government that fully understands and embraces true localism and fairness.
Cllr Tudor Evans is the Leader of Plymouth City Council. Plymouth City Council is featured in the new report One Nation Localism: How Labour councils are delivering fairness in tough times, published by the LGA Labour Group and launched at Labour’s Local Government Conference 9-10 February