Close co-operation to aid our communities

By Martin Swales | 15 October 2019

The theme of interdependency and collaboration within the public service system underpins my approach as Solace president and will remain so during my term. I have great belief in the power of both our sector and of collaborative relationships.

To address the many challenges we face, we cannot stand alone. We must work seamlessly and closely with others within the broader system, with a strong sense of common purpose.

Local government is being increasingly recognised for its exemplary leadership and given the powers and funding, we can be the source of many of the solutions to today’s most pressing issues.

Brexit is the all-consuming issue of the day and undoubtedly marks a major transition in UK history. And, with all such transitions, there are risks and new opportunities as the country seeks to navigate this extremely complex issue.

One thing is certain: it is more important than ever that national and local government work together to maintain strong and cohesive communities. This is a pivotal and defining period in time, not just for the sector, but the UK as a whole.

We can and must seize the opportunity to look forward and do our utmost to shape and influence policy for the next decade. To this end, a significant focus of my first 10 months in this role has been creating the right platform, conditions and relationships for this to happen.

Working with colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Local Government Association (LGA), as well as other key influencers such as the County Councils’ and District Councils’ networks and other professional bodies, myself and Solace chief executive policy leads are now in regular constructive dialogue with senior colleagues across Whitehall, including the Treasury.

We are engaging in two-way, collaborative working, which is giving us a seat around the most senior tables, achieving genuine influence.

Working in this way should never stop us acknowledging and addressing points of difference – and it is vitally important we represent the sector in a determined and passionate way.

In order to have the difficult conversations, we must be in the room in the first place, and there is a now real desire to hear our highly-informed perspective of life at the ‘sharp end’.

The short-term financial certainty of last month’s Spending Round was welcome. It was encouraging that the Government listened to our calls, both public and private, with Solace as one of those powerful voices.

While significant challenges remain, this will at least enable us to plan with more certainty for the year ahead. And, with each of the main political parties pledging to invest in public services, we are turning our attention to securing a long-term, cross-departmental financial settlement. This will be additionally challenging and will depend on borrowing and growth projections.

Solace and the LGA, through our respective professional and political representation, have made real progress on this front and we will maintain momentum on financial system redesign for the medium and long-term.

Local government’s elected members and senior officers continue to show courageous leadership during turbulent times and through Solace and our many interdependent partnerships, we are increasingly uniting behind that single vision for the future of local government.

It is important to reflect and learn using the strength of the Solace network to support each other and build further resilience – to exchange ideas, experiences and learn from each other through the strong support we have.

There are record levels of trust in public servants and we must continue to build upon this and uphold the behaviours that maintain the values we are all so proud of. Our words and our actions have never been more important.

It is important to remember the privilege it is to serve at the most senior level in local government. We are uniquely placed and extremely influential in shaping places in which the most adventurous trails are being blazed.

Our local Industrial Strategies will herald the next Industrial Revolution, helping to drive the digital, AI and green industries towards the UK’s Net Zero Carbon Commitment by 2050 – places where our R&D and drug science revolutions are literally changing the world.

I also believe the unparallelled power of local government to shape and make places – including its economies – must be trusted and supported through real devolution at whatever scale of local agglomeration works best for the area it serves. I look forward to the White Paper from the chancellor on this issue.

We must continue to embrace these agendas with energy and a sense of joint endeavour.

We must always remember the constant that local government represents in people’s lives, providing the care and compassion for the most vulnerable and our overriding duty to give our children the best start in life in our schools and in our care.

Martin Swales is Solace president and chief executive of South Tyneside MBC

The Solace Summit takes place at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole on 16-18 October.

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