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David Colbear

5 reflections on NLGN’s (excellent) Annual Conference

Yesterday I attended the New Local Government Network (NLGN) Annual Conference at the Guildhall in the City of London. The venue may have been old, but the emphasis was decisively on the new. There was a particular emphasis on engaging the community in the delivery of public services, in line with the NLGN’s recent publication ‘The Community Paradigm’.

Before I go any further, a quick tip of the hat to keynote speaker Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who bucked the focus on the new by rolling out a golden oldie – ‘I don’t have a date for the Green Paper’. One for the nostalgia fans there.

Here are five of the many things that caught my attention during the day:

    1. The absolute importance of working alongside communities. This is THE way forward when it comes to delivering public services. It is fundamentally about empowering groups of all sizes to take control of their lives and, critically, preventing people from requiring more intensive and expensive support.
    2. Legitimacy is everything. In a fascinating session reflecting on the impact of the Grenfell fire, local government legend Barry Quirk argued that without legitimacy in its communities, local government – and the public sector by extension – is nothing, and it can only establish this legitimacy by doing, not talking.
    3. The importance of forgiveness. This was a theme brought up by Martin Griffiths, a trauma surgeon who has set up a violence reduction service to tackle knife and gun crime. Put simply, without forgiveness for people’s backgrounds and circumstance we cannot move forward, and this applies as much to public services as it does to the victims and perpetrators of crime and their families.
    4. Stop commissioning prevention and build capacity instead. That was the message from Chris Wright, Chief Executive of Catch 22. This goes back to my first point about working to empower communities, rather than imposing decisions on them. This would require a radical shift in how councils operate, and goes against some of the behaviours that are heavily ingrained in the public sector.
    5. Conferences can be fun. The day felt very different from other events I have attended. This is best reflected in the final interactive session whereby attendees identified nine challenges facing local government. Each challenge was written on a different board, and everyone walked around the room, adding ideas on how to solve the problem. This was a great way to keep energy up late in the day and get talking to other participants. Interestingly, many of the issues identified were the ones IMPOWER faces every day, which require working at interfaces and across organisational boundaries – key parts of EDGEWORK.

This was one of the best conferences I’ve been to and I left with lots to think about. Congratulations to NLGN on delivering such a good event – I’m definitely hoping to be back next year.

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