Unlocking Local Capacity: Why active citizens need active councils

Introduction

Elected local authorities have been delivering services to England’s cities, towns and villages since the 19th Century. Throughout this time local people outside those formal council roles have continued to use their own skills, time, energy and ideas to build, sustain and help to define the places we live.

Sometimes councils act in concert with local people, with this combined capacity used to maximum effect to achieve shared aims. Often they don’t, and the opportunity is missed. This is not for want of trying: unlocking local capacity, in the real world of local government, has been persistently challenging.

So the topic of marshalling local energy and ideas for wider public good is not new. It is, however, one that is generating considerable interest, debate and action at present. Fundamental questions are being asked about what the local state can and should be doing, and about what happens to everything else.

These questions are central to discussions about localism, empowerment and what central government calls the Big Society; but they are being asked with such urgency because acute financial pressures demand it.
The current reality for all authorities, regardless of political hue, is that they can no longer afford to deliver all the services they typically have in the way that they have.

The process for deciding what to do less of and how to do things differently inevitably involves understanding what the rest of us are willing and able to do ourselves. Developing that understanding and translating it into concrete actions are things that all local councils are trying to do in England today.

About this report

This report was published in 2012 under Traverse's former name, OPM (Office for Public Managemenet).  It sets out findings from new research about what councils can do to unlock the capacity in their communities. The practical experiences quoted are those of managers from 30 councils interviewed especially for this research, up and down the country.

Unlocking Local Capacity gives a snapshot of where local authorities are now and where they are heading. It highlights some of the approaches being taken and challenges being faced, and pinpoints the practical implications for councils, their staff, their elected members and their citizens.

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