We think it’s time to reclaim the word ‘municipal’ and to reframe it for the 21st century. LGiU publishes its new collection of essays, Municipal Futures, which aims to do just this. It brings together thoughts and ideas on the kind of council we need to see in the future: the new municipalism is not just about cities but about relationships and flexible geographies. Not just about physical infrastructure and grand buildings but about a social architecture, a civic infrastructure in which local government catalyses the collaboration of citizens, communities and institutions to work together for the public good.
LGiU’s policy team looks at local authorities from different angles. Andrew Walker looks at power, arguing that we need to stop thinking about decentralisation as a political project in which power is wrestled away from a grudging centre and re-think it as a emergent phenomena which recognises and develops the power that already exists in communities across the country.
Josephine Suherman looks at how councils need to take the best from the rest and become centres of adaptive leadership that are continually learning both from their own practice and also from that of other sectors; thus setting the scene for new and deeper forms of partnership.
Ingrid Koehler believes that councils need to focus more on building relationships. Both the relationships within communities that create wellbeing and allow mutual support and the relationships between people in the council that enable employees to feel secure innovating.
Finally, Lizzie Greenhalgh challenges us to broaden our perspective and to think about localism in a global context. Issues like migration, climate change and economic growth are better managed, she claims, between cities and localities, than mediated by national governments.
The ideas contained in Municipal Futures are intended to spark a conversation, and encourage us to think differently about councils. It’s basic argument, brought together by Chief Executive Jonathan Carr-West in his opening chapter, is that current policy mechanisms – for example city deals, joint commissioning, community budgets – are important, but insufficient to meet the scale of challenges we face in local government, and too technocratic to capture public imagination. Instead we need councils to be relationship builders, community curators, power generators and places of learning.
We’ll be publishing a second edition in the autumn that incorporates feedback, disagreement and new ideas. We look forward to the debate.