Meeting needs locally – learning from the pioneers
Across the UK there are locally led, innovative service providers stepping in to meet their communities’ needs. At the Social Guarantee, we aim to identify and amplify these examples of good practice to benefit other providers, policy makers and research. We have come across inspiring cases of combined and local authorities and third sector providers delivering in service areas including adult social care, childcare, digital access, energy and transport. Here are four of them. Keep an eye out for more that will follow later.
Oldham’s Green New Deal
Oldham Council began reworking their energy strategy in 2020, bringing together climate mitigation and local economic development. As well as investment in low carbon infrastructure, this approach has centred on building pathways for residents and service users to shape provisioning systems in their local area. In conjunction with Carbon Coop, a local co-operative, the
Council supported residents to learn technical knowledge and skills for energy systems change and decarbonisation, covering areas such as retrofitting and green transport alternatives. Subsequently, the members involved produced a Community Led Energy Plan with proposals to develop Oldham’s Green New Deal and prevent it from becoming a top-down infrastructure programme.
Nottingham’s municipal bus service
Nottingham City Transport (NCT) is one of the UK’s few municipally owned bus services. Resisting privatisation at numerous junctures and maintaining their controlling stake in the company, the council has upheld a more reliable, accessible and sustainable service. Elsewhere in the UK private bus companies mostly dominate networks – these are businesses owned by ranging international financiers, constituting the investment portfolios of banks and high-net-worth individuals to foreign governments. The prioritisation of shareholder payouts restricts expenditure on the service, which helps to explain the deterioration of Britain’s buses in recent decades. In many parts of the UK today passengers are doubly afflicted by exorbitant fares and reduced connectivity. In contrast, NCT’s municipal ownership model leaves space to invest sufficiently in capital and labour, affording good working conditions, a greener fleet and high service quality.
Opposing the housing crisis in Newham
As in many other parts of the country, there have been continuing problems in the London Borough of Newham as a result of the private housing market. Residents have experienced appalling, dangerous living conditions due to negligent property management, alongside soaring rents. Pushing back, the local community formed a tenants’ union, PEACH, in 2013 to organise, act and resist the housing crisis. Councillor Rokhsana Fiaz embraced their demands and since her election as Mayor of Newham in 2018, has been able to implement some meaningful change in the borough. Newham Council have adopted a policy of ‘Right to buy-back’, repurchasing council housing stock to provide more social rents, as well as enforcing the law in support of tenants. Council-led co-produced development and regeneration projects are due to take place in the borough. However, some residents are concerned about these, so it will be important to monitor how these plans unfold in Newham.
A minimum digital living standard in the North East
The North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) has developed a minimum digital living standard for all in the North East. This began in response to Covid-19, when the combined authority intervened to deliver devices and mobile internet packages to those needing access to recently digitalised services, such as school and job-seeking support
during lockdown. Without the financial capacity to continue with this emergency pilot, more recently the NCTA has been drawing up plans to tackle digital exclusion across the region. Following a consultation process it has formulated and prioritised a minimum digital living standard. This is defined as having access to the internet, adequate equipment and the skills and knowledge to communicate, connect and engage in opportunities confidently and safely. Currently the combined authority is designing policies to implement this standard in the North East.
Among these examples it is clear to see the positive impact of acting and organising locally, with or without support from the centre. Local actors are of course financially restricted in their capacity to supply services; in every case study we’ve examined, providers are doing what they can with limited resources. Unsurprisingly, those in receipt of grants from central government and increased funding have been able to extend their operations. Nonetheless, it is evidently possible to reallocate existing local resources in line with needs and take initial steps independently. In any event, these case studies show that needs-oriented service provision must come from the bottom up, or at least genuinely involve stakeholders, to work for each locality’s unique requirements and infrastructure.
Please do get in touch if you are aware of any examples of locally led, progressive service provision that align with our priorities at the Social Guarantee!