Councils should step back as communities come forward

A new report, setting out the key principles for a successful relationship between councils and communities, says that councils must learn to cede control where communities are willing to step up and seize it.

Rebalancing the Power, published by the New Local Government Network and the Local Trust, acknowledges that the relationship between councils and communities is shifting and it is becoming more obvious that the role of the council needs to become that of an ‘action enabler’, not always directing or leading, but instead increasingly supporting individuals, preventing problems occurring and unblocking barriers for communities to address their own priorities in their own ways.

Such a shift, however, is not always easy to achieve in practice. The research takes the Big Local scheme as a case study to consider how the power dynamics can be recalibrated in practice. Big Local involves grants of at least £1.1 million to 150 communities, which have previously typically been overlooked for Lottery and other funding, giving those communities direct control over how to spend this significant new resource.

Rebalancing the Power establishes five key operating principles which should support how councils and communities could establish and run successful joint endeavours in which communities themselves play an active role, supported but not directed by the council.

They are: to be inclusive and treat all parties with respect from the start; to find ways to reflect a changed relationship which clearly set out the roles that different parties play, mutual priorities and areas with some level of flexibility; to agree how different parties would like to communicate in the future and build this into the relationship from the start; to seek to develop empathy for each other’s position and be prepared to compromise on certain issues to achieve the best outcomes for the whole; and to foster a shared sense of endeavour by agreeing small actions that can be delivered together to build trust, and then scale up successes incrementally.