Re-Thinking Local: A Vision For The Future - Councillor Ruth Dombey OBE

Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group Councillor Ruth Dombey OBE delivers her opening address to the LGA's webinar series.

We are still in the midst of a terrible global pandemic but it’s not too early to take stock of what we have learnt so far as councillors and leaders of the places where we live. So this is the right time to be launching our vision for the future.

At the top of this list are important questions about the location of power and decision making in this country, lessons about what should be determined at international, nationalregional and local levels. 

What this crisis has shown is the vital role for local government and for community action.

I have seen throughout this crisis some striking successes from local government. We quickly put in place food distribution networks, we got homeless people off the streets and provided them with support and guidance to keep them off the streets as they move into alternative homes. Building on our good working partnerships with the voluntary sectorwe empowered local communities across the country, we helped co-ordinate mutual aid groups and we got PPE into care homes.

What this crisis has proven is that local works best but also that central government struggles to accept it and to trust us to deliver. Their reluctance to share decision making, information and data with us has been highlighted over and over again and the confusion around the situation in Leicester just serves to highlight how important this is, not just for this particular localised outbreak but for all future ones.

It matters because in the next phases of the pandemic, the need for localisation and devolution (true devolution, not unitary amalgamation) will become more and more urgent. Local issues, local problems and local flare ups need local action, unhampered by central government trying to control the agenda and the news cycle.

We need a proper debate about the world we want to live in, the values we hold most dear. About climate change and sustainable living, about decent affordable housing, about mental health and about finally tackling those terrible inequalities that mean that so many children are born into poverty and lack of opportunity and the gap widens year after year of their lives.

Different places will have different solutions. It will feel very different from my borough of Sutton, to Sefton, to Southend and to Shropshire. We have different needs, different priorities. We need to take people with us and build the future together. This is NOT the time for a top down centralised approach from government or for a large scale reorganisation of local areas.

Local government has to be placed on a sustainable financial footing without having to bid continually for separate individual grants that set us up in competition with each other and don't allow for joined up longterm planning. We need to focus on what we do best - preventative services, early intervention, providing the right support at the right time and in the right place, encouraging and enabling our residents to acquire the life skills and the work skills so they have opportunities and hope for the future.  

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity - the time is now and we need to grab it