Dan Corry, Executive Director of the New Local Government Network, has outlined why council members, are vital to the long-term success of new localism. In a speech to an NLGN conference New Roles for Modern Members (held in association with the IDeA and the ALG), Mr. Corry observed the often understated role of councillors in the modernisation of local government, stating:
- “The Government will only devolve if councillors are responsive to their communities and if they use their new freedoms to the clear benefit of those who put them in office. Members must also realise that their new roles mean working in partnership with different agencies and making the scrutiny process work. Most fundamentally, they need to be seen to be striving constantly for a better deal for their communities”.
Yet Mr Corry, co-author of the recent publication New Localism: refashioning the centre-local relationship, also offered a stark warning:
“The centre has not embraced localism because of some great conversion to ‘municipalism’. It has done so because the penny has dropped that command and control does not deliver locally. Should local government fail to embrace new localism, there is a real likelihood that the centralisers will grab power back”.
Elsewhere at the conference, Cllr Ken Bodfish, Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council acknowledged the complicated role of being a councillor, based around both representing the council to the people and vice versa, adding:
“Still, we fully understand the need to balance the interests of the different sets of communities we serve and our role is to make balanced judgements about the most appropriate outcomes. As such, members should welcome new localism as we are best placed to take the agenda forward in the broader interests of the community”.
Meanwhile Dr. Jane Martin, Executive Director of The Centre for Public Scrutiny referred to the need for local government to have an effective scrutiny process:
“to enable strong external challenge to the performance of public authorities and public sector organisations, ensure that public services are responsive to the needs of the public and secure the promotion of community well being at local level”.
Having captured the imagination of the ODPM, ‘new localism’ has also been adopted by other departments with Treasury minister, Paul Boateng and Health Secretary, Alan Milburn both using NLGN platforms to reveal how it is guiding policy. NLGN’s ongoing work in the area includes a public opinion survey – the New Localism Index – and a seminar series, New Localism in Action, which aims to pin down its implications across a range of key services.
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NLGN is an independent think-tank, seeking to transform public services, revitalise local political leadership and empower local communities.
The conference New Roles for Moderns Members: Enhancing Local Democracy for Stronger Communities was held on 27 February in central London. Other speakers included: Mike Pitt, President, SOLACE and Chief Executive, Kent County Council ; Paul Wheeler, Associate Director, IDeA Solutions ; Kris Hibbert, Principal Manager, Member Development, Association of London Government ; Cllr Rob Anderson, Leader, Slough Borough Council ; Cllr Ruth Bagnall, Labour Group Leader, Cambridge City Council ; Steven Pleasant, Head of Policy and Performance, Tameside MBC ; and Greg Parston, Chief Executive, Office for Public Management .