Cllr Barbara Brownridge: Becoming a co-operative council means embracing transformation

cllrbrownridgeBy Cllr Barbara Brownridge
Cabinet member for neighbourhoods and co-operatives, Oldham Council

Before coming to power in 2011, Oldham’s Labour Group set out a clear co-operative ambition for Oldham focused on building a sustainable economic and social future for the borough. We entered administration with a clear ambition to become a co-operative council, reconnecting the Council with our local communities; providing new ways of delivering services and facilitating the regeneration of the borough.

So what is a co-operative council? You might have heard that being a co-operative council is all about mutualising services, or getting volunteers in to run the local library. For us – it’s not just about co-operative service delivery. The Oldham Model is a whole-system approach that encompasses everything we do. This ranges from working in line with co-operative principles to getting residents to actively take part in decision making and from co-production of services with residents to establishing co-operative models of delivery.

But it isn’t easy, and it takes time. We have set ourselves a ten year period, by when we will have achieved our ambition to create a co-operative borough, where everyone does their bit and everybody benefits.

So, how did we go about it? We started by holding co-operative conversations with employees, partners and residents to help raise awareness of our co-operative ambition. We created our Co-operative Charter which was signed by partners to commit to building a co-operative borough, and sign up to our co-operative values of: Fairness, Openness, Responsibility, Working Together, Accountability, Respect and Democracy.

Building on the Co-operative Charter we launched our ethical framework, setting out as a Council how we were going to operate ethically and in line with our co-operative values. Our Social Value procurement Framework followed hot on its heels. Through clearly setting out our values, we ensured that resources and capacity were directed to deliver maximum social value across the borough – making the Oldham Pound go further.

To reconnect with local communities we needed strong local leaders. Councillors were asked to return to the classroom for a newly created Local Leaders training course, which is now in its third year. The course covers everything from using customer insight to personal resilience and from using social media to mobilise communities to asset-based community development. We want strong local leaders who are able to engage with their communities, and are ready to become 21st Century leaders, with the change of role this will undoubtedly bring, especially as service delivery changes.

Councils cannot carry on indefinitely making cuts and trying to balance growing demand on the public sector. In Oldham we will have taken over £200 million out of our council budget by 2016. We need to encourage people to do their bit, taking care and pride in the place they live. If nobody fly-tipped or littered in Oldham we could save £1m a year. That’s why Oldham Council is committed to creating a co-operative place, where the Council works side by side with partners and residents to make Oldham a great borough to live and work. For further information on how our budget challenge and how co-operative working can help, take a look at our budget challenge video.

We want local people to be actively involved in making decisions that impact on them. We have devolved decision making and budgets to a neighbourhood level, giving councillors greater influence in their local area. We live stream our Full Council meetings, allowing residents to join in from the comfort of their own homes – another big plus for democratic engagement. But the real difference has been felt on the ground in residents’ day-to-day lives.

We have worked with local residents and community groups through our “Love Where You Live” initiative; highlighting the fantastic community and volunteer spirit that exists across Oldham and encouraging even more people to ‘do their bit’. We have worked co-operatively with partners to develop our Fuel Poverty Investment Agreement, lifting 1,000 local families out of fuel poverty. We have launched Get Oldham Working, an unprecedented partnership between Oldham Council and partners across all sectors, focused on creating 2,015 new employment opportunities by 2015.

Oldham is now at the forefront of the Co-operative Council agenda – restructuring the way residents are actively involved in shaping and receiving services. We are serious about giving residents the chance to shape local decisions. We look at the real issues and challenges facing communities and how together we can make a co-operative difference.

Oldham Council is passionate about furthering the co-operative agenda. As a founding member of the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network I have been extremely proud to see the network grow to 22 members. The CCIN is helping local authorities across the UK play their part in defining a bright new future with their communities. I look forward to being on the Executive Oversight Committee and believe that together we can help build a stronger, more relevant public sector with a greater focus on outcomes and the needs of our communities.

Cll Barbara Brownridge is Cabinet member for neighbourhoods and co-operatives at Oldham Council, and is a member of the CCIN’s Executive Oversight Committee.