Doug Taylor 09 May 2011

Beyond the fragments

Doug Taylor believes ‘Big Society’ risks becoming a mass of atomized parts and sets out why his council, Enfield, aims to have a coordinating role.

The ‘Big Society’ risks becoming a mass of atomized parts, devoid of any connecting theme. As the government tries to push local authorities to the margins public services lose cohesion and places their shape.

We reject this fate. Despite the decimation of grants and concerted attacks on local public servants, Enfield Council is reworking its role, form and function and establishing clear plans for service delivery – and as we do so, hoping to talk to and learn from other local authorities in similar circumstances, regardless of their location or political control.

Only the local authority can do the surveying, joining-up and systems integration that will bring together the NHS, police, transport and other services. The logic of ‘place-shaping’ continues: councils are uniquely equipped to envision their area’s future– and what needs to be done now to improve capabilities, invest and attract inward investment.

Only we can look across the entire borough, assess needs and distribute spending and services fairly, reflecting the character and capacities of our people.

Only we, on the borough’s behalf, can advocate on Enfield’s behalf in a single voice and make the case for support and assistance.

I am not arrogantly saying ‘we are irreplaceable’. It’s more that with democratic authority and unique statutory duties, only the council looks right across the local space, bringing a borough-wide perspective into local patches, and offering a dual sense of community, at the level of Enfield as a whole as well as the level of streets and estates. Accountable to local people straightforwardly and transparently, we can be measured by how we tackle problems and improve people’s lives. We levy taxes to maintain services and as we do so we talk to residents about their needs and aspirations. Not just the articulate, prosperous residents, but also those least able to mount a case.

In Enfield we have labelled our strategic aims fairness for all, growth and sustainability and strong communities. Ours is a borough of contrasts. The social mix has been changing, fast. Enfield’s employment base has shrunk, but great opportunities still lie before us. We are contending with (and relishing) demographic change, migration, altered land use, business upheaval, at the same time as we fend off rhetorical assaults from ministers who claim they are ‘localists’ while demanding conformity.

Common services, such as street scene, cleansing and amenities, cannot be provided except inside a single, area-wide framework – imagine the nonsense of different waste vans driving down the same street, rather like the competition between fire engines in a bygone era searching for fires that they would put out, ignoring fires they would not.

A strong, confident and far-sighted council is the precondition of an active voluntary sector. Community groups, our partners, need support, organisation and frameworks if we are to avoid duplication and waste.

So Enfield Council is styling itself the coordinating council, in a landscape of an increasingly fragmented society and services. We want to discuss our model, considering how others integrate services, work with business local and international, and try to meet differential needs fairly across their areas. To promote that conversation, we are hosting a one-day conference in the summer, to which we are inviting ministers, civil servants, councillors and council officers, business people, academics and analysts, to consider the emerging role of local authorities ‘beyond the fragments’.

For further details please e-mail or telephone the Enfield Conference Desk on 020 8542 7622.

Doug Taylor is the leader of Enfield Council

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