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Lord Gary Porter reflects on his work with NALC

AUTHOR: LORD GARY PORTER, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION


As my time as chairman comes to its close, I can reflect on the importance of the relationship that has developed between the Local Government Association (LGA) and NALC for the sector. 

It has been a pleasure to work with both Cllr Sue Baxter and Cllr Ken Browse during their tenures as chairman of NALC. Each has brought their unique talents and experiences to the role. I want to thank them for their contribution to our partnership and their work advocating on behalf of the local government family. 

Times remain hugely challenging for local government with councils in England facing an overall funding gap of £8bn by 2025. That is why the need for cooperation between the tiers of local government has never been greater.

Our work together, producing the One Community guide in May 2018, demonstrates the value a close partnership can add. The guide sets out a framework for effective partnership working between all tiers of local government, across a range of policies. Since then, we have continued to work to build connected communities equipped and resourced to respond effectively to a wide range of needs.

One such need is tackling loneliness in our communities. Without a sense of belonging to the community, or perhaps because of the loss of companionship in older age, the quality of life for large numbers of residents can significantly decrease. This has a considerable impact on these individuals and has implications for the health and care services we provide. We will be launching our joint Reaching Out guide this year, which will be a vital starting point and practical resource to help local councils do more to address this blight on our communities.

The LGA’s #CouncilsCan campaign is working to influence the Spending Review and make the case for long-term, sustainable funding for councils. This needs to be backed up by a radical transfer of powers from central to local government. 

In my time as LGA chairman, local councils have made a strong case to me on the need for principal councils to support ‘double devolution’ and share powers, funding and flexibilities with the most local tier. My answer to them has remained consistent throughout my time here: with greater powers comes greater responsibility.

Local councils need to step up to the plate and show they are prepared to work with principal councils to tackle some of the hardest challenges our communities face. With the support of NALC, local councils must be prepared to support and also challenge each other to be more effective and better for their communities. 

Working in partnership

Up and down the country, we have seen good examples of partnerships working to tackle the care crisis, loneliness and the challenges of an ageing population. We have also seen local councils improve community spaces and buildings. Local councils offer insight and understanding that might not be possible for principal councils, whereas principal councils have more capacity to deliver local goals.

In Bedfordshire, Dunstable Town Council has stepped up to provide health and wellbeing services. Their social activities for people of all ages include lunch clubs for the over-55s and over-75s and drop-in youth sessions for teenagers. They also partner with young people’s counselling service to deliver sessions in schools identifying causes of stress.

In Hampshire, Denmead Parish Council was the first council to complete a Neighbourhood Plan, partnered with Hampshire County Council to protect village heritage, to refurbish historic fingerposts and finial rings and used powers to list a building as a community asset to save a village pub.

This is a critical time for local government. It is vital that we continue to work together, whether that is to share best practice, promote new ideas or to lobby the central government for the positive changes our communities need.

Our sector is under immense pressure, and I urge local councils to think about what role they can play, in partnership with principal councils, the voluntary sector and their communities to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead. Brexit, the Industrial Strategy and devolution all have the potential to shake up the way we do things, and ongoing budgetary pressures mean none of us can sit back and relax and keep doing things the same old way.


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