Viewpoint: Innovating for local government

Croydon councillors are working with NEF to develop new and innovative ideas for for service delivery in response to the challenges thrown up by the current lay of the local government landscape, as Councillor Jamie Audsley explains.

As we start 2016, many in local government will still be working out how they cope with the huge cuts to local government spending that came out of the Chancellor’s autumn statement. Many commentators have called the sustainability of local services into question and what’s patently clear is that delivering services as they are currently designed will simply be impossible. At a time when communities face rising poverty and inequalities, those delivering services come under increased pressure and infrastructure around local government retracts, how are we to respond?

As councillors in Croydon, what we’re clear about is that we won’t be victims of the reality imposed upon us. We want to innovate, improve services and work with our officers and citizens a like to create a town where people can thrive. To support us to do this we’ve teamed up with NEF to deliver The School for Local Government Innovators, a four month programme that aims to provide councillors the space and expertise to develop new ideas and take practical action to see them implemented.

We were attracted to work with NEF because of their systems approach – economic, social, environmental and political – to changing local areas. This we felt would fit well with our ambitions to tackle poverty, inequality and environmental problems in our town. Many areas of interest to us – revitalising our district centres, involving citizens in decision making and catalysing our local economy – are also areas where NEF has a strong track record. We want to be both challenged and supported to look at where things aren’t working and use our own creativity and NEF’s understanding of what’s being tried in other areas to develop new solutions.

As well as enabling an understanding of how to change local areas, we also want to ensure the programme provides space, time to breathe and sustains relationships between councillors – increasing the likelihood of success and ensuring the programme adds capacity, rather than takes it away. To this end we’ve built in some of the leadership development tools that both myself and Julia Slay (leading the programme at NEF) were able to undertake during the Clore Social Leadership programme. These include: extended introductions, personal story telling; action learning; and coaching.

So far we’ve had one session of the School. We reviewed our local problems and priorities, analysing where power to act and effect change sits within Croydon and exploring the role of local councillors as community leaders in building power and organising communities. We also looked at examples of innovation in other local areas: how Haringey’s Carbon Commission is making sustainable energy and green enterprise a priority; how childcare co-ops are bringing down the cost of childcare in Tower Hamlets; how Oldham is tackling food poverty by setting up community gardens, and many more. From this deep dive into our own situation and review of innovations in others areas we then tailored the “curriculum” we’ll follow to explore and put new projects into practice over the coming months.

What lies ahead? With a desire to better support citizens develop their own solutions to problems we’re off to visit a project called Help on Your Doorstep, in Islington and we’ll also be undertaking two workshops with experts in local economic development and social investment.

As we progress we’ll be working to harness the energy and talents of councillors and other local leaders, to focus on the parts of our local areas where we need new ideas, methods and models, to look outwards for inspiration and to be challenged and supported by NEF to take action. We’re ambitious to put new initiatives into practice and we hope Croydon will be better positioned to embrace and own its future as a result of everyone’s efforts.

For more information on the School for Local Government Innovators contact  jamieaudsley@gmail.com  or Julia.Slay@neweconomics.org.

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