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As momentum for devolution gathers pace, local government must consider what it would do with new powers. Are councils ready?

Co-operative councils argue that power should not simply be devolved to local areas but should be shared with citizens. Co-operation represents a challenge to business-as-usual command and control and councils know they can be as guilty of command and control as Westminster and Whitehall.

The Cooperative Councils Innovation Network has just completed a review of community resilience, jobs and enterprise, in particular how to ensure all citizens have the chance of employment, through the application of cooperative values and principles such as:

  • Genuine social partnership – Plymouth’s 1,000 club led by the local Chamber of Commerce has far exceeded its ambition of creating 1,000 new work opportunities for people in the city

  • Giving power to citizens to co-produce solutions – people with a disability in Edinburgh have co-designed a new employment service which is already achieving 50% improved outcomes

  • Building on community assets and developing relationships – Sunderland Software City, a partnership with the university to drive growth of software, digital and technology enterprise, has provided support to 340 software businesses and 100 start-ups

Detailed economic analysis shows real value is created by effective co-operation, particularly in harnessing private sector resources.

For example, if the successful partnership model used by responsible commerce charity Business in the Community’s Ready for Work programme, which supports disadvantaged people into employment, were applied nationally it could reduce costs of employment support by £500m.

If every district in England established an enterprise hub similar to Stevenage’s Business Technology Centre, the resulting small business growth would create 90,000 jobs. If every local authority played the co-ordination and brokerage role of Southampton we could see developer contributions to employment and skills grow from £15m to £225m annually.

Co-operation depends on mutual responsibility and mutual benefit so in its report, Unlocking our Wealth, CCIN proposes a series of deals.

First, a new deal with citizens that treats everyone as an individual. Cooperative Councils commits to working with partners to create a coherent pathway that supports every citizen to make decisions about education, skills and work at key stages throughout their life, and a tailored, dignified service for those who need extra help. In return we expect citizens to take work seriously and do their bit to help young people to learn about jobs, careers and enterprise.

Second, a new deal with business based on genuine partnership. Cooperative Councils commits to getting business involved in leadership of the place, developing local employment commitments and brokering relationships between schools and employers. In return we expect business to take part in local initiatives, share knowledge and other assets for community benefit and adopt good employment practices.

Third, a new deal with government based on local freedom to innovate. Cooperative Councils commits to providing leadership, being accountable and winning the trust of citizens. In return we expect government to trust us, let us design the systems that work for us and give us the resources to do the job. In particular, the sooner government gives local authorities funding for skills and to help people with complex long-term needs into work, the sooner we can fully deliver on these commitments.

Cooperative Councils is not waiting for new powers to start putting these new deals into action. For example:

  • Lambeth LBC will run a campaign to deliver 300 new high-quality apprenticeships in a range of sectors that provide businesses with a highly motivated and well-prepared young person

  • Oldham MBC aims to get 200 businesses signed up to a Fair Employment Charter, a pledge to pay a living wage, offer fair contracts and stability of employment and access to training and support

  • Sunderland City Council committed to get 75 businesses involved in Work Discovery Sunderland, an exciting mix of careers fairs, challenges, workshops and visits to give all secondary school students an insight to the world of work

Co-operation is not always easy. There is much more to do before we can say citizens are truly at the heart of local decisions and we have really harnessed the commitment of business to drive local growth. But surely, as we argue for powers to be handed down to councils, that should be our aim.

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