When I am asked to speak to groups of new councillors or those interested in becoming leading councillors, I’m fond of offering up my reflections on successful political leadership. I always remind them that as well as being a numbers game, politics is fundamentally a team sport. This can seem at odds with the perceptions of many outside politics who often relate to Machiavelli’s metaphor of a fox to explain the cunning that a leader needs to maintain control.
While it’s easy to think of political leaders as cunning types avoiding snares as Machiavelli puts it, the reality is that politicians have a limited shelf life unless they can build a successful team around them.
The challenge for political leaders is to ensure that there is both a breadth and depth of talent within their group, as well as a team of colleagues that have their back.
The best councils are not those that have a high profile leader or mayor but which operate on the basis of collaborative leadership – where cabinet members, committee chairs and ward councillors are all encouraged, developed and supported to exhibit effective leadership.
In the last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shone a spotlight on the impossible struggle local councils face to fund social care.
The IFS predicts that even if council tax increases in line with projected earnings growth, and business rates revenues followed recent trends, adult social care spending would take up half of the revenues from these taxes by 2035.
This takes me back to my first point: politics isn’t simply a team sport at local level, but nationally, too. If our sector is to punch its weight nationally, if we are going to win the debate on adequate funding, we must pull together as a team.
Sadly, too often the sector doesn’t speak with one voice on funding issues. We’re too busy criticising what others get rather than pulling together and making a compelling joint case. It’s utter madness that as a sector our first instinct is to focus on how the cake is divided up rather than the fact it’s simply too small to start with. Taking this lesson on board must be the first step in securing a successful outcome from the fair funding review.
Cllr Claire Kober is chair of London Councils and leader of Haringey LBC