In local government there’s a rather big story to be told over the coming years – so to add a bit of frontline narration to these changes, we thought it might be an interesting idea to invite council leaders to write on the local democracy blog, using it as a platform to discuss local issues and highlight proactive initiatives their council is implementing to address these.
Over time we hope this will build a fascinating resource – one that will allow for the sharing and cross-fertilisation of best practise and innovative ideas.
We decided to start by inviting the party leaders in the LGA and are publishing articles on a first-to-reply basis.
So how is Liverpool gearing up for the massive changes in the Localism, Police and Health Bills? Well in some ways not at all. For the past ten years Liverpool has had a strong sense of devolution and for the past 40 years a strong sense of empowerment. The Quirk Review meant nothing to us because we had never owned a lot of community centres and buildings. Under Labour and Lib Dem control we always gave people the cash to build their own properties and manage them as an asset. We have little need of new directions on localism because for years we have been pushing at the bounds of what is legal and what is acceptable to try and involve people to the full.
Of course the above statement is a simplification. The fact is that like every other council we are looking with interest at the changes we will have to make as a result of the three Bills but the reason I say that we are not concerned is because we are defining the actions permitted in those Bills when they become Acts within the areas and activities that we already are developing. The Localism Bill will only help us enact at a Liverpool and neighbourhood level those things which we are already pressing for. The Liverpool solutions will be just that. If localism means anything it means that everywhere there will be different interpretations of Big Society and neighbourhoods etc.
Next week at the District Committee which I chair we will be looking at the planning and licensing changes available under two of these Bills. What is immediately apparent is that to introduce them properly we are going to have to change the culture of the way we work as councillors, council officers and partners of the council. The Government means what it says when it states that devolution will be to and through councils to people and communities. Quite right too. Within loose parameters it must be the people who live in an area who decide what that area should be like and not councillors, officers or even worse developers.
We will be discussing what support is needed for members to change their role in planning matters from being a community advocate to being a community facilitator. How will they work to develop local plans for their area instead of reacting to planning applications once received. What support will the council give to this enhanced role of the front line councillor in planning, licensing and service delivery matters? How will they do it in the light of financial constraints?
There are more questions than answers but the direction is clear. We intend to take what the Government gives us and make it suitable for Liverpool. Game on!