4. Empathic, enabling local leadership:
Cities are going through profound changes as they deal with the impact of austerity on local people and services at a time of rapid change. During this project we visited some of the cities struggling most heavily with cuts – Liverpool, which has lost 58% of its funding, and Newcastle, which has lost more than 30% of its funding. With or without austerity, cities are becoming aware that the ways in which they tackled poverty and ran public services has not always worked and that communities and service users have the solutions. The paternalistic role of councils is shifting to a more partnership-based approach in which the state and local communities and local businesses work together each other to tackle local problems. Birmingham Council is focused on triple devolution: devolving power and resources down to local areas. It has set up social innovation zones to test new ways of running public services and has transferred a number of local assets to community organisations. In Leeds a civic enterprise model is helping civic organisations become more enterprising and asking local businesses to fulfill their civic role. Sheffield University is working with local partners to build new networks, particularly in relation to the local creative and cultural sectors. Local councils are creating employee- owned and community-run services. The work of the Cooperative Councils Network and the setting up of municipal energy companies such as Bristol Energy are leading the way in new approaches to show how councils can work more closely with citizens to address local needs. An enabling and empathic approach is one that listens to communities and allows them space and support to experiment with new ideas and schemes and build individual and collective agency. It works alongside the social and business sectors and local anchor institutions such as hospitals, universities and housing organisations to guide and steward the local area. It uses its role as a local purchaser, employer and asset-owner to build a ‘good’ local economy in which people thrive socially and economically.
Who’s doing it:
Birmingham Council | Leeds Council | Belfast council | Bristol energy | Sheffield Creative Guild
What it needs:
Local authorities are a key agent for pulling together and accelerating alternative local economic activity. Key to this is local government being the active enabler: encouraging and inspiring self-determination from a range of sectors and innovative collaboration and crossover between social, public and commercial networks. This includes council leaders, mayors (including directly elected ones) and, importantly, councillors. It is about harnessing the expertise and empathy present in a range of local people, other public sector agencies, third sector partners and businesses, and engaging them as leaders in their own fields. It is only through this empathic, coordinated leadership-focused approach to place that complex issues such as poverty can be adequately addressed. To do this there should be an easing up on austerity. Funding cuts to local authorities have severely hindered their ability to enable others and innovate.
Clare Goff is former Editor of New Start magazine