Nick Plumb, Locality Policy Officer, looks at the trailblazing councils that are joining the Keep it Local Network and new research exploring why.
We need to support places up and down the country who are beginning to harness the power of community.

The challenges facing our councils and the public services they deliver are huge. An ageing society, rising demand for services, decimated budgets and a staggering level of centralisation can all lead to a feeling that change is a distant prospect.

These challenges have been apparent and growing for a number of years. Indeed, while recent claims that ‘austerity is over’ are welcome, there doesn’t look set to be any respite for local government.

Harnessing the power of community

So the starting point for a new government committed to ‘levelling up’ places that have been held back for too long, must be to ensure local government is properly-funded and empowered. But increasing the quantum of funding alone won’t be enough to meet the huge challenges local areas face. To do this we need to support the growing movement of places up and down the country who are beginning to harness the power of community.

These places recognise that while many of our knottiest social challenges – from homelessness to loneliness – are the responsibility of local government, solving them is not something they can do alone. These are complex problems that can’t be fixed by top-down plans or simple market incentives. Instead they require deep and lasting relationships to be forged, with power widely dispersed and services joined-up around the distinct needs of every person.

Plugging into this network delivers additional value for the authority.

Cogs of connection

Our new research published this week explores in detail the role community organisations play in this mix. We worked with seven community organisations across the country – from Leeds to South Gloucestershire and Bermondsey to Birmingham – exploring their role and their distinctive offer to local communities.

The common thread linking all of them is that they have formed a range of relationships and partnerships with local people, public sector agencies, providers, businesses and other local partners – a network that has developed organically over time. Indeed, they have a catalytic role linking up these often-disconnected parts of the system. Because they have forged trusting relationships they are able to support those who might be traditionally furthest from public services. And they leverage external funding into the local area and act as local economic multipliers.

Image shows the cogs of connection for Keep it local

As well as delivering high-quality services which meet core council priorities, these organisations are central players in this powerful network. Plugging into this network delivers additional value for the authority. This might be through prevention of demand elsewhere in the local system. We saw this through the end-to-end domestic abuse support service offered by Bede House in Southwark which can save money for the NHS and other council services, such as adult and children’s social care.

Alternatively, this additional value might be in the form of less immediately tangible benefits such as strategic leadership to local voluntary and community sector organisations. We uncovered a clear example of this leadership in Birmingham, where Northfield Community Partnership have convened a local stakeholder’s group, informed the council’s neighbourhoods and housing strategy and helped map local assets.

Read the new research

In too many places commissioning tends to miss out on these benefits and make it more and more difficult for this vital ecosystem to sustain itself.

How to Keep it Local

When local authorities keep it local, they are plugging into this resource and benefit from its power. Commissioning can support this network to develop and grow stronger. At present, in too many places commissioning tends to miss out on these benefits and make it more and more difficult for this vital ecosystem to sustain itself.

So, Locality is convening the Keep it Local Network, in partnership with Lloyds Bank foundation for England Wales, to support places to make the most of the power of their community. We’ve been working with councils across England in recent months, and this week announce the eleven trailblazer councils who have now joined the Network.

These councils have endorsed six Keep it Local principles, appointed champions in their cabinet and senior leadership team, and committed to working with Locality to assess and improve their current practice.

As leader of South Gloucestershire Council, Toby Savage, puts it:

“We know that our voluntary, community and social enterprise sector has skills, expertise, creativity and fleetness of foot to act locally, which is why we already work with them, right up to the strategic level, as partners and equals.

“We want to build on and strengthen that relationship as we develop a new approach to providing services for local people and communities. We’re joining the Keep it Local Network because we know this is the beginning of a journey and recognise the power of learning from other councils in the Network as we make this shift.”

Where next?

The Keep it Local Network is for those wanting to seize the opportunity presented by building and strengthening partnerships with their local communities and community organisations.

It can support councils to deliver on core outcomes for their citizens, and in the process, they can receive so much more. They are investing in their local economy, preventing demand elsewhere in the system and nurturing vital local networks.

Taking this new route requires leadership and vision, accompanied by practical change. Through the Network, Locality and your peer councils will work with you to make this vision a reality.

Join the Keep It Local network

The eleven councils that have signed up to the Network so far are:

  • Bradford Metropolitan District Council
  • Bristol City Council
  • Calderdale Council
  • Hackney Council
  • Kirklees Council
  • Lewisham Council
  • Newcastle City Council
  • Oldham Council
  • Rotherham Council
  • South Gloucestershire Council
  • Wirral Council

Keep it Local is brought to you in partnership with Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales.