aerial view of city during daytime
Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

Time and time again, our communities and neighbourhoods have pulled together in response to crisis, and we have started to take it for granted. We need to re-focus government so that it can work with people in a way that recognises and values their expertise, and acknowledges that they know best about their places, and about what they need.

The Labour vision for community power that we have outlined in the paper published this week will feel like home to many Co-op members and activists. It codifies what we know and have advocated for – for local communities to be heard and heeded in the places where decisions are taken and laws are made.

Government and the public sector at all levels should be about creating resilient communities, rooted in places full of pride and identity. It should be about trusting the British people to understand that compromise is often more practical than contrived consensus.

The paper – co-authored by seven Labour local authority leaders – gives us a framework for how we can reimagine the role of the state to give meaningful power and influence to communities.

The proposals are clear and implementable. We know this because in our local authorities, we’re already putting many of them into practice. In Ealing, for example, we’re running a Community Service Design Centre, which puts local people at the centre of the services that we will deliver in their neighbourhood.

Within the centre, our staff and resident volunteers get together in small groups to solve problems. Residents bring their lived experience, and combined with the professional expertise of our staff the groups suggest and design solutions that will actually work, rather than making plans on paper and assuming they’ll come off.

I know from the time that I have spent speaking to the community volunteers who are part of the centre that the proposals in this paper could have a real, beneficial, and transformative impact on our politics. It would be easy to assume that the solutions coming out would be burdensome for the council, or create expectations around funding and resource allocation that we can’t meet. But this isn’t the case.

This isn’t about populism. It’s not about saying to residents that they can have it all. It’s quite the opposite. It’s about saying that things are tough, but that if we come together we’re stronger.

And that’s been borne out, as all the plans the community service designers are making are community-led, with the council playing an enabling role rather than needing to be in the driving seat.

Another key focus of the Labour Vision of Community Power is prevention. We know this makes sense. The consequences of inadequate housing, the cost-of-living crisis and poor air quality are felt across public services, from the NHS and adult social care through to schools.

At Ealing, we invested heavily in our Brighter Futures programme, which fundamentally reset our approach to children ‘on the edge of care’. We changed the whole focus of our children’s services to supporting families and reducing the need for children to enter the care system in the first place.

It’s an intensive model, but with many more young people remaining safely at home, it’s paying off. That’s both in terms of reductions in financially crippling placement costs, and in supporting families to stay together and preventing them from being torn apart in the first place. This means that we can reinvest in more early help and intervention services.

We’re building on this – which was both a delivery programme and a cultural change – throughout children’s services. We have young people with experience of care as regular attendees and contributors at our Corporate Parent committee, with the power to select who those Corporate Parents are. We also recently made experience of care a protected characteristic so that we are better able to respond to their needs.

These two initiatives, among others, should give us confidence that the principles that sit at the heart of what we are trying to achieve at Ealing resonate with our residents, and are the same values that people across the country try to live by. If you talk to British people, by and large they will say that they want to live in a more equal, involved and socially connected society. A place where good jobs and prosperity are brought back to the heart of our communities, where residents come together to deliberate, compromise and make decisions, and where neighbours both celebrate together and support each other through the challenges we all face.

A Labour vision for community power: Participation, Prevention and Devolution was launched on Tuesday 26th September. It was supported by the Co-operative Party, New Local, Local Trust and Power to Change, and was co-authored by Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz (Islington Council), Cllr Bev Craig (Manchester City Council) Cllr Tracey Dixon (South Tyneside Council), Cllr Georgia Gould (Camden Council), Cllr Denise Jeffrey (Wakefield Council), Cllr Peter Mason, (Ealing Council) and Cllr Kieron Williams (Southwark Council). Kim Leadbeater MP wrote the foreword.