I am pleased to have the opportunity to be the guest blog writer for the February 2018 newsletter of the ‘Cooperative Councils’ Innovation Network’. I am a local Councillor and community activist from the Halewood area of Knowsley.
Now, more than ever, there is a necessity for elected members to become more involved in offering direct support to our hard pressed communities. In my blog I want to discuss how an ongoing project in Knowsley mirrors a key principle of the cooperative movement and illustrates the kind of leadership role elected members may need to provide in the future.
By way of context: Knowsley resides within the Liverpool City Region and has seen major reductions to its LA grant from central government over the past 7 years. Between 2010 and 2020 Knowsley will have had a real terms cut in funding of 56% and will have had to make cuts in its budget of over £100m. Since 2010, the Council has had to make cuts of £86m, and has to make a further £15m over the next three years. The challenges faced by our residents have not miraculously reduced by 50%. Indeed, because of major changes to benefits over the past few years, because of wage stagnation, because of reduced Police numbers and overstretched social care budgets the situation for many is far worse than the halcyon days of the last Labour government.
To balance budgets councils have through necessity reduced its staff numbers and reduced the level of non-statutory provision. In Knowsley I am constantly impressed by the hard work and creativity of the staff we have retained and who deliver high quality services to our residents. We have also reduced the numbers of elected members too in our borough – down from 63 to 45 councillors across 15 wards.
A key principle of the Cooperative Movement is ‘Concern for the Community’. This Principle is something that any elected member of any political persuasion will probably hold as their personal modus operandi. However, in 2018 it is my belief that is now an increasing requirement of local councillors to be more active in delivering on this Principle. Certainly in the Liverpool City Region – with reduced staff and greater pressure on communities – members need to ‘do their bit’.
In addition to my council role and job I am also very active in my local community association in Halewood. In the lead up to Christmas we developed an outreach project offering freshly cooked hot meals to many of our most vulnerable residents and families. We also held a community gathering on Christmas Day, where meals were cooked for individuals who may otherwise have been lonely or isolated. The project has been successful and continues to this day. It is supported by the local association and its community volunteers. My role – in addition to cooking and delivering – has been to make the case for such a project and take a lead in making it happen.
A Councillor in 2018 has to be more than a conduit to council officers or the attendee of myriad local committees. In the new paradigm of austerity and growing inequality a ‘concern for the community’ is meaningless for elected members if it is not accompanied by being active in support of residents and families.
Councillor Gary See
Cabinet Member for Resources – Knowsley Council (Halewood)
Member of the CCIN’s Executive & Oversight Committee