Recent polls have placed Labour in a very bad position. Optimists have voiced support for the idea that Labour’s way back into power is through our work in local government and the endeavours of local councillors. My view is that similar to our reluctance to examine facts after our 2015 election defeat, we are currently avoiding the challenge of providing policies at a local level that will bring electoral success in the future

There are several areas where councillors need to widen debate and action across both Progress membership and in the Labour party. Local government finance, collaborative work, devolution, the role of metro-mayors, services integration, digitalisation, and the business of forward-thinking councillors. To make progress, we need Progress.

The local authority funding crisis demands new thinking on services. We must consider new approaches to ownership of services. Increasing the number of community assets passing into the hands of viable community groups. Bringing in the expertise and local knowledge Of local people to running our services. We need to promote the role of co-operatives and make more councils co-operative councils

Leadership in town halls too often undermines collaborative work with our voluntary sector and local business. How can we capacity build skills and opportunities if we don’t invest in our communities? Complex social, economic, and environmental challenges can only be met through an accord with local organisations, business and voluntary sector. Because we have ignored local business in some areas recent changes to business rate retention will eventually bite councils hard.

For too long councils have been influenced by ‘pale, male and stale’ opinions. Doing the same year after year despite greater threats and risks to council services. As progressive councillors we must implement 50:50, improved training and support Labour election procedures that reenergise councils and democratic relevance of our elected representatives.

Whole place and whole system approaches are desperately needed. Local authorities are changing irrevocably. Either councils can see themselves as victims and juggle reductions in preventative non-statutory services against statutory services or re-invigorate themselves with progressive and outward behaviours.

As said, across all parties there is a dominance of councillors who can be described as ‘pale, male and stale’ in key positions. Councillors are adept at doing the same thing year after year. Not so good at being able to respond to the demand for innovation and creativity in system change, developing dynamic relationships with, for example, police and crime commissioners, business, housing associations and emergency services.

If we do not take a whole-place, whole-system approach we will only be building costs for another day.

As devolution gathers pace. Combined authorities offer fresh challenges and we need clarity. In future, we must promote clear policies. Adult social care, children social services, and transport under direct control of a combined authority would be a positive structural reform. Too many services are now deemed to be failing and at risk. This discussion must happen now. Growing demand for services, funding reductions, devolution, and wider reform initiatives, as well as the uncertainty over our own Labour policy direction threaten the impact of local councillors.

The role of city mayors needs greater freedom and enhanced budget support. Being locked into overbearing finance considerations and ‘silo’ mentalities will not bring about the change local governance requires. In the West Midlands the Tory candidate has stated that he will ‘end youth unemployment in three years’. High rhetoric, but many voters may be influenced by the vision. Sion Simon, Labour’s candidate is an excellent and pragmatic politician. He needs to rise to this challenge stating his vision and policies for the future. Labour cannot afford to lose a city region with 12 local authorities, four million people and £80bn economy. This will be a major battlefield in the 2017 campaigns.

We know one size does fit all on devolution across our country. Relinquishing powers may be difficult for some local authorities. They are creatures of habit and in danger of falling behind what local people expect from their service providers. Would Anne Hidalgo in Paris have accepted the limited powers and civil servant-led budget discussions on city deals? If we want to maximise the impacts of devolution, we have to have mayors that stand up for clear and progressive reforms.

Pioneering plans to integrate community healthcare, social services, councils and voluntary sector together are both radical and ambitious. A new era of integrated health and social care budgets is urgently required. This is a progressive aim. Redesign will support local people to keep well and tackle the causes of ill health, capacity build local skills, provide high quality integrated services around a person’s home. Integration is our future – let’s make it happen.

Two other topical areas must have efficient, effective and costed policies. The amalgamation of ‘blue light’ emergency services and the digitalisation of services across all sectors of government. Emergency services amalgamation has been on the agenda for over 20 years. Pilot schemes are under way. Unions are still sceptical. How much longer does this obvious operational development have to take? Similar to a local council’s vested interests, certain management tiers in these services appear to dictate the pace of change. Can we afford not to change?

Digitalisation must receive greater focus. In several European countries voters use digital voting systems. Consultations are promoted and delivered electronically. Online services speed up service delivery and improve data collection to inform better decisions. How many council chambers across the country have digital voting at committees? How many councillors use paperless electronic reports and communication methods? How effectively is data used to help services and protect our communities?

There needs to be endeavour on local government finance and reform, devolution and the role of mayors, integration of health and social care, renewed vigour to improve and protect emergency services and a more impactful introduction of digital technologies and modernisation of our services through the application of secure digital systems.

Progress and Progress members that are councillors have an important role to play if we are to return Labour to power through our work in local authorities. Taking things for granted is not a career-enhancing option. We let ourselves down and crucially fail our voters. We must provide clarity on progressive policies that are based in reality and supported by local people. The business of arguing our case is more vital than ever. It is time to progress change and reform or fall further behind the times and popular vote. Labour must turn the tide in the polls and on our streets. There is work to be done. Lets get the policies right and win the future.


Doug James is a candidate in the councillors’ section in the Progress strategy board elections. He tweets at @darlodoug