I am travelling today to speak on ‘Localism and Realism’ at the national summit on the future of local government. This year’s theme is ‘the opportunity for leadership in a relocalised future’ with sessions on: local government taking the initiative for reform, how to link democracy and community engagement with greater efficiency in service delivery, build shared services and achieve breakthrough outcomes in rural communities. The roles and relationships between communities, of elected members and officials and the relationship with national government are also on the agenda.
Sounds familiar? But this is the annual summit in Australia on the future of local government. Each year they take two days to consider the big issues and drive localism and improvement. I will be catching up with old colleagues and providing an update on the English experience, and hearing all the Australian and other international input.
I will also be speaking at a seminar for staff and local government officers from the 38 authorities around Sydney at the University Centre for Local Government.
Already, I am energised by the buzz and the interest in governance, policy, local democracy and what works. Many people seem to have read the Lyons Inquiry report with interest – that year of my life was not in vain! One CEO just emailed me his priority was “Local Government fulfilling its role as the place maker, co-ordinating the efforts of other layers of government and ensuring that our community is at the forefront of that agenda”.
I will blog on my experiences and especially on the similarities and the differences with England – Australian local government areas vary in size and population but most have far fewer elected members than in the UK – usually fewer than 20. There are active community groups and I shall be testing for evidence of a form of ‘Big Society’. I shall also be looking out for the experience of the Work Programme several years on, now that it has been the basis of the approach in the UK – see my previous blog The Work Programme needs jobs and better links with local services.
Thank you to all who have contributed and commented on early versions of my talk – and keep on suggesting questions for me to pose and ponder whilst I am in Australia.
Sarah Phillips is Deputy Director of the Centre for Public Service partnerships @LGiU.