Carl Wright, secretary-general, Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) on why it’s important to strengthen local communities in the capital
A local government is closest to the community as it plays a key role in attracting inward investment, promoting exports and helping accelerate development. It’s responsible for providing key services which Londoners need such as water, waste collections and disposal, education, health services, electricity, transportation, access to technology.
To do their bit for the economy, London businesses need a high level of quality services which can only be provided by local councils and communities.
Also, inviting the community to participate in the way they are governed helps in energising creativity and commitment of a community and creates the right environment for businesses to be a part of community-based development.
However, local authorities in Europe are facing big cuts in their budgets and are looking at ways to meet their challenges while maintaining and improving services. Some of the solutions include working smarter through better use of ICT, reducing costs, and boosting economic growth to bring in income and investment.
According to recent research carried out by the LGA, UK councils are on the verge of a tipping point where they will not have enough money to meet all their statutory responsibilities as they tackle a further £10bn cut in government funding.
Local partnerships enhancing economy through employment
Councils throughout the Commonwealth have highlighted Local Economic Development (LED) as a priority, which is why it has been a focus area for the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF).
CLGF partnership projects between UK councils and their counterparts in other countries, such as the partnership between Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality near Johannesburg and Lewisham Council have produced significant results in the efforts to deal with unemployment and provided support for small businesses.
With Lewisham’s business economy being made up of micro-businesses, 30% of residents come from diverse ethnic, geographical and cultural backgrounds – Lewisham sees cultural diversity as a strength and explores ways to support and develop small businesses. Ekurhuleni Municipality learnt from Lewisham’s approach towards creating jobs. The project enabled Ekurhuleni in developing a job brokerage service to provide high quality training and place people into employment.
Lewisham also introduced Ekurhuleni to other London agencies, such as the Learning and Skills Council, London Development Agency and JobNet, as well as other employment schemes. Through this network, officers from South Africa saw Lewisham and other local authorities in South East London in action working with public and private partners to provide high quality job brokerage services to the unemployed and successfully placing people into work.
Using sporting events to generate investment
Over the years, sporting events across the Commonwealth have proved beneficial in delivering positive economic and social impact at the local level. The public and private investment in infrastructure catalysed by such events helps in leaving a significant legacy to the local communities. Some of the direct economic benefits include: better transport and other infrastructure, increased local capability, enhanced economic relations, export sales and foreign awareness of local business opportunities, skills and facilities, future tourism opportunities in addition to promotion of the city host as a ‘can do’ place. Councils such as Cardiff have used sporting events such as Rugby to bring value into the city and promote economic growth. The UK economy has seen a £9.9bn boost in trade and investment from hosting the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games. And in the run up to the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Glasgow City Council has revealed £300m boost to local businesses as a result to games-related contracts.
Growth of creative industries
Councils are also best placed to identify local skills and expertise and bring in training relevant to local needs. Following the departure and downsizing of traditional heavy industries, Cardiff Council worked towards developing a thriving business economy using public-private partnerships to regenerate towns and create jobs, one such example is that of the Balgan Energy Park in Port Talbot. Sunderland City Council is also actively promoting new business and helping successful businesses to grow by fostering growth of information and technology-based enterprises. Pitching itself as a Software City, Sunderland has highlighted the success of local businesses engaged in the sector, as well as efforts to tap the creativity of individuals and the scope for attracting software-related inward investment.
Ensuring local economic development
Local governments have immense potential to drive forward regeneration, investment, job creation in local communities and act as a driving force in stimulating the economy. Empowered local governments with meaningful autonomy and delegated powers to deliver LED, can actively promote and sustain inclusive, locally owned economic development, which addresses the challenges of poverty, un/under-employment, political instability and deprivation. This is equally true in South Africa, the Pacific as it is in the UK. National governments need to develop national policy frameworks that provide clarity on the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders involved in LED and set LED in the macro-economic context. Businesses, the private sector, local chambers of commerce and trade associations also need to improve understanding of local economy, encourage entrepreneurs and facilitate Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).
We at CLGF work towards supporting our members in sharing knowledge and experiences regionally and ensuring that local government is visible and recognised as an important sphere of government in improving the quality of people’s lives and providing the environment for energising local economies. We are delighted that the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), held in Colombo in November, formally endorsed our proposal of having 2014 as the Year of Developmental Local Government. This high level political mandate from our leaders is not only assisting our members in approaching their governments to support their own work but also strengthening CLGF’s efforts to ensure that the current UN discussion on post-2015 takes into account the role of local government, notably by focussing on its potential responsibility for helping to set, implement and monitor local targets for the envisaged new Sustainable Development Goals – which will help in contributing towards strengthening local communities and promoting economic and social growth.
Carl Wright is the secretary-general at Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF). He was previously assistant director at the Commonwealth Secretariat (1988-94), and from 1980-88 he was the founding director of the Commonwealth Trade Union Council. Before that he worked as secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (1974-80).Carl has served on special Commonwealth, UN, EU, OECD committees and expert groups.