As a sector we need to stop looking always to Westminster and find ways to unite with like-minded and enlightened local authorities writes our CEO Paul Streets.
I recently visited Manchester and West Yorkshire, where, as well as visiting Lloyds Bank Foundation funded charities, I joined a group of Local Authority leaders in Bradford City Hall, brought together by Locality as part of the Keep It Local campaign, to understand more about how they can work better with local charities.
The Centre For Cities report was launched on the same day, highlighting the stark truth around how governmental restraint around spending has impacted the poorest people and places hardest, especially in the north. Its findings echo our own ‘Quiet Crisis’ report which shows how the cuts have hit preventive services hardest. It also revealed one welcome finding; the extent to which even cash challenged local authorities have tried to protect the most deprived communities from the worst of the funding cuts – within the confines of restricted budgets.
My conversations in Bradford challenged me to think afresh about how much time national organisations like Lloyds Bank Foundation, and sector leaders in general, spend looking up to Westminster rather than out to city and town halls up and down the country.
The group of Local Authority leaders I met genuinely understand that the sector can play an important role in preventive services. For example, in Bradford, the Local Authority and CCG have built up a good working relationship with The Cellar Trust – one of our grantees – because they recognise the investment in community-based mental health services is the best way to get round expensive, out of city placements for people with acute mental health needs.
I left recalibrating where the sector should focus our attention. Westminster isn’t going to stop worrying about Brexit anytime soon.
Whether we go ‘hard’ or ‘soft’, the UK’s relationship with Europe is going to dominate years of politics, policy and public debate. Meanwhile everything else is side-lined. In major government departments, huge swathes of staff have been moved away from their policy areas to focus solely on Brexit. Yet there are still important national battles to fight – like what happens to the Shared Prosperity Fund that will replace the European Social Fund and The Dormant Assets fund – which between them could make a massive difference if invested in the local economic infrastructure that has been so denuded – as the devastation of our CVS’s shows.
And as our parliamentary Neros fiddle while Rome burns, Bradford, and its like, burn with the injustices Theresa May committed to quench on the steps of Downing Street. Local Authority leaders, along with tens of thousands of local charities, are beating back the flames, or being engulfed. They share common cause in caring deeply about the people and places where they live and work. And unlike Whitehall departments, they are more likely to see services focused on people first, not departmental issue-based constructs. They can’t pause for a very deep long breath whilst Westminster waits to catch one or they’ll suffocate. This is as true for Tory East Sussex where I live, as it is for Labour Bradford.
As a sector we need to stop looking always to Westminster and find ways to unite with like-minded and enlightened local authorities to seek action to address the collateral damage delivered by austerity and the obsession with Europe.
It’s time we ‘looked local’, echoing and amplifying the message from local charities and authorities about what is happening to the poorest people on the ground in parliamentary constituencies across the UK.