South Tyneside has been rated as a high-performing council. Yet, compared to 2010, we have 54 per cent less government grant to spend on supporting residents and are the third hardest hit by central government cuts. Against this background we have had to consider new ways of working to be able to continue to provide the services we know our residents value.
We have been on a co-operative journey for several years. This has seen us develop a social contract with citizens and put co-production at the heart of decisions which require a collective response.
A Third Sector Strategy was developed which is driving much of the progress in this area. A single, overarching organisation called Inspire South Tyneside provides a platform for the effective dissemination of information, advice and guidance. It also provides a brokerage service, matching volunteers with opportunities available.
Despite the harsh cuts to its funding, we remain committed to investing in the Borough. The 365 South Shields masterplan aims to regenerate the town centre to make it an all-year visitor destination while the nearby International Advanced Manufacturing Park seeks to build on the success of Nissan and bring more than 7,000 new jobs to the area.
In order to deliver on the potential of these major investments we need to deepen and embed our co-operative ways of working so that the co-operative principles of self-help and responsibility can thrive.
Our approach is already paying dividends. While many areas have had to close libraries and community centres, we have managed to retain these prized community assets by working in partnership with local people.
All of our branch libraries are now under the management of community groups or charities. The process is now underway with our community associations.
Our co-operative journey has been made easier because South Tyneside boasts close-knit communities with a strong sense of civic pride as well as a vibrant third sector. This has been further consolidated by the #LoveSouthTyneside campaign which seeks to highlight community pride, raise awareness of volunteering opportunities and community events and promote the Borough as a great place to live, invest and bring up families which, in turn, will further strengthen local resilience and cohesion.
Although we have lost a great deal of resource in recent years – both in financial and staffing terms – we have remained steadfast to our ambitions for the Borough and its people. By applying innovation and co-operative thinking, we are successfully finding solutions so that our residents can continue to enjoy their much-prized community facilities.
Cllr Iain Malcolm
Leader, South Tyneside Council