By trusting people to design and deliver the services they need and use we get better outcomes.
Jack Hopkins is a Labour cabinet member on Lambeth council
Ed Miliband’s commitment to radically reforming how citizens, the state, business and the voluntary sector interact and work together is absolutely right and he has to keep faith.
Right across the country Labour Councils are showing that shared and cooperative decision making works better than what went before; however it’s a difficult sell to a public who are stuck with a state that tells them what’s good for them and big business that reaches ever further into their pockets.
Simon Jenkins, in his recent article, I think missed the point about the two big challenges for Miliband – how can you have a national manifesto about devolving power to local communities and be specific about how it’s going to happen? Local communities will work out for themselves what they need and how they will tackle their own challenges, but Ed’s commitment to giving them those opportunities is absolutely on the money.
Secondly it’s such a culture shift that until it’s happened to people it can seem like pie in the sky. You don’t know the grass is greener until you’ve seen it. Whilst there are examples of where its happening all over the country, I find it difficult to convince people in Kennington that there are good things going on in Vauxhall, half a mile down the road.
When we went out with our cooperative council vision of sharing decision making with communities we were on the whole greeted with puzzlement or cynicism. Nothing changed overnight, so services were still poor and people couldn’t grasp that we were actually asking them for their opinions and for their involvement in changing the borough.
We needed to support community groups to grow, broaden their reach and mature into partners for change, rather than people who had quite rightly formed to ensure that services that they loved or needed were accountable or performed properly.
This shift from adversarial to collaborative is an ongoing process, and something we can never assume is done.
But four years later we are seeing the courage of our convictions bear fruit. We allowed community groups to design over £1.2m worth of improvements to their streets, trees, traffic safety measures, planted areas and new public squares. Our transport planners worked for communities to make these real, rather than telling them what the professional transport planners thought was needed. Local Councillors, not senior council officers made the final decision.
Our Young Lambeth Cooperative is putting power in the hands of young people themselves to decide what young people need to realise their potential. Wider library forums are deciding the hours of operation, the classes and groups needed and the sorts of skills and attitudes they think their librarians need. Our residents shaped our licensing policy and are now involved in how it will operate, deciding with local businesses, council staff and the police how each partner needs to play their role.
We are working on creating this power shift in all aspects of life in Lambeth, not just what the Council does because we recognise that we are here to serve communities how they want to live their lives, not simply to manage Council services. But overcoming cynicism, inertia and apathy about services being done to or sold to people with no way of change takes time, commitment and only becomes real by working it together.
The Labour Party in local government right across the country from Oldham to Plymouth is being bold in devolving power to the communities and Ed Miliband is shaping what this means for National Politics. This is in stark contrast to the Tories’ empty promises of localism and Big Society which essentially mean starving or selling off the public sector to unaccountable multi-nationals.
By trusting people to design and deliver the services they need and use we get better outcomes. This is why Ed is right to talk about devolution of power and why the public who experience it where Labour is in power will understand and embrace it.
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