Two immediate things struck me from the experience, the first was the fact that the NESTA team seem to be running a genuinely open process and that they want the best ideas to do well – with no real agenda as to what ‘best’ means in this context – I hope that they are able to keep this up. The second thing was the quality of the 17 groups (yes – I modestly include us in that statement). I met some fantastic people and heard some really brilliant ideas from the other groups. There is some but not excessive crossover between ideas and there are some obvious collaborations if we can all figure out how to collaborate in what is ultimately a competitive process but if we can manage it then there is an opportunity to connect together transformational change in Local Government. Before you get too excited I did say opportunity – lets see if we can avoid cocking it up.
For me the meeting also helped to clarify what Cityforum is going to be – and also what people want from it. It think its best described as an opportunity for people with ideas to get them in front of the right people and get some commitments about how to make them happen. We’re not talking about money or resources (though hopefully at some point there will be some of those) its more about getting the right group of people talking so that things get done. We hope that we get some actual commitments to take ideas forward from the event and this is why its important to develop ideas as much as we can in advance so that we can use our time in front of decision makers well.
We were following the elections in our home city of Brighton over on our new Twitter account @DemsocBTN, which we’ll be using for our local activities alongside the main @Demsoc feed.
As you might have read in the papers, the Green Partywon the most seats, and are likely to form a minority cabinet. The AV referendum vote was “No”, but only by a margin of 250 votes in 80,000 cast.
Given the city is (just) against AV, it’s ironic that the First Past the Post had some big effects in the Council elections. As pointed out by Tony Cook on the Brighton & Hove Issues mailing list, the Greens took 33% of the vote, but 23 out of 54 seats on the Council, as their vote was mostly concentrated in the city centre wards. The Conservatives came second in seats (18) but third in vote share (29%), while Labour, competing head to head with Greens in many places, only gathered 13 seats for a 32% vote share.
So Brighton & Hove will have the first Green council in the UK. One of their manifesto commitments (pdf) is extensive devolution of services and budgets to neighbourhood-level decision-making bodies, and we will be keeping an eye on how that goes (as well as offering support as it’s needed).
Over the weekend, the Society will be helping to organise CityCamp Brighton, a three-day innovation event in our home city. Here, Jo Ivens writes about why she’s excited about helping to organise it:
I’ve worked in central government for the last 4 years and have been impressed, exhilarated, stimulated, surprised and crushed by the experience in roughly equal measures. Having spent the majority of what I laughingly call my career in the local voluntary sector trying to make a difference, the thing that really drove me to work in central government was making a difference nationally to the structures that surround (and either support or restrict) the way charities and local government work together. How successful I’ve been is a post for another day, and one perhaps is better suited to the therapists couch then public airing…
The reason that I’m leaving central government is that the power really is moving toward local areas, communities, neighbourhoods. Or rather, the opportunity for power to move is there, but it is only going to actually shift if we grab it ourselves. And it’s going to need a good old yank and a lot of determination to make it a permanent change.
The good news is that there are more tools, data and general willingness than ever before from the top of the Coalition Government to our own local Council. Love him or loathe him, Eric Pickles is right behind this one, saying “Getting council business out in the open will revolutionise local government”. Brighton & Hove Chief Executive, John Barradell, is first up on Friday afternoon and I’m particularly interested in what will say in his speech. BHCC is simultaneously very keen on opening up its data, but gets a naughty red cross from OpenlyLocal for not being very open at all.
The not-so-good news is that while there is now a vast amount of local government data out there, without context it’s basically just a great big jumble of numbers. However, I have a hunch that this data can be used to great effect by the voluntary and public sectors if we can work out the right ways of combining local government spend and demographic data with voluntary sector service provision data and expertise. If you add this to the ‘softer’ side of knowing your area, the long experience of front line workers and some thoughtful community engagement, the potential for making a real difference with increasingly scarce resources is huge. I’m looking forward to meeting some like minds and having a go at making it happen.
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