Some end of term reflections for Local Government Chronicle

LGC asked for some reflections at the end of my term a a council leader. Here’s what I wrote for them:

There are only a couple of weeks left until I step down as both Brighton & Hove City Council’s leader and as a councillor. While, after eight years, I will lose that ‘Cllr’ title I will continue to have a passion for the sector and all that it delivers for citizens. LGC have asked for my reflections having led the UK’s first Green council, albeit a minority administration.

I’m writing this just hours before we launch our end of term report. In that report we show that our administration has delivered on over 85% of the 195 manifesto pledges we made in 2011. Brighton’s economy is booming with a famously vibrant creative digital cluster, we are a top UK seaside destination, a place where people want to come live and work. Our ambition and delivery for Brighton & Hove has been recognised in many ways including as the world’s first One Planet City, the 2014 CIVITAS European City of the Year for Sustainable Transport and part of the UK’s first new UN Biosphere Reserve in over 40 years.

These and our other achievements have only been possible through collaboration. If there ever was an age of heroic leadership, then that time has gone. Collaboration and co-operation are now the only forms of leadership that can deliver the outcomes our citizens deserve. Locally this has meant intense cross-party working and collaboration with partners in all sectors as well as our neighbouring authorities in the Greater Brighton city region that we have founded.

Nationally the learning and co-operation that has developed through the Key Cities group of 26 mid-sized cities have been invaluable. The collective voice, and thinking, we have been able to present to government and other bodies like the Local Government Association has helped move forward the devolution debate whilst also providing mutual support to the challenges each of our areas face.

We are indisputably now in a multi-party age, and I think that’s a good and healthy thing. In some ways I’d argue that we are just catching up with the rest of Europe who have long had to deal with more parties sharing power at local and national levels. This new reality not only requires new ways of organising TV leaders’ debates, but also puts a clear expectation on political leaders. They will have to be far more collaborative with their erstwhile opponents, and civil servants will need to do more to facilitate and support this type of joint working.

Perhaps as the only Green council leader, being a little freer from the traditional political tribes, I have had an advantage in working with anyone from any party. But I do also think local government has already developed more collaborative leadership capacity than we always get or give ourselves credit for: I see cross-party cabinets and committees delivering positive change in areas right across the country.

Here in Brighton & Hove we made an early change to the committee system in 2012, and we haven’t regretted it for a moment. It wasn’t a move backwards, it was a positive choice to a new way of working which involves all members of all parties far more whilst also being open and understandable to citizens. It has been a particular strength in our new Health & Wellbeing Board arrangements which I chaired, providing system leadership with health partners and all parties were represented as major decisions were being taken.

Finally, as someone with a background in technology, I have worked hard to try and support the local government sector in advancing its transformation for the digital age. It hasn’t always been smooth or easy as legacy systems, skills shortages and capacity restraints are real challenges for all of us. But the potential digital provides us to improve services for citizens, to rethink how we work and reduce costs must be pursued aggressively. Again I strongly believe collective action and collaboration are key to overcoming some of those barriers we face. Even after 10th May I will continue to actively support this stream of work and remain a lifelong champion for the power of local government to improve people’s lives. I know hard times are ahead for councils, but I can’t help feeling optimistic that the passion, creativity and collaboration I’ve seen will get us through the trials and tribulations. Thank you for a fantastic eight years. I’m just off to find somewhere to put down my party political hat.

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