The Lambeth tragedy and electoral reform

Chris Game

The recent Independent Inquiry report, chaired by Professor Alexis Jay, into the serial sexual abuse of children in the residential care (or neglect) of Lambeth Council from the 1960s to 1990s makes dire, sickening reading. It is lessened not one jot by being semi-historic, particularly for someone like myself who had at least intermittent dealings with the councillors and officers of Lambeth and other London councils during the 1980s, the most politically malevolent of those decades.

Pause for some indulgent, but explanatory, personal history – only three paras, promise!  I remember that key mid-80s period vividly. My early INLOGOV years, in the early 80s, felt like a kind of extended apprenticeship. I’d been appointed to launch the Department’s undergraduate PMA (Public Policymaking & Administration) degree, of which several senior colleagues were undisguisedly suspicious. I had no personal local government background, and was barely allowed near INLOGOV’s ‘shop window’: its prestigious, 6-week Wast Hills residential AMDP (Advanced Management Development Programme) for senior lg officers – because, well, what could I possibly tell them that they didn’t already know and weren’t already doing?

But then came ‘Widdy’ – the Committee of Inquiry into the Conduct of Local Authority Business, chaired by David Widdicombe QC – the Thatcher Government’s thinly disguised vehicle that would reveal the scurrilous goings-on (and, yes, ‘abuses’ – though even she didn’t mean sexual ones) in particularly left-wing Labour councils, enabling legislation that would restrain and generally weaken them. For several reasons it didn’t work out like that. Future Professor Steve Leach and myself from INLOGOV and two other colleagues spent the summer of 1985 visiting over 100 GB councils, interrogating senior members and officers, and eventually producing a 340-page report – far longer and more detailed, nuanced and qualified than the ‘hatchet job’ it was widely assumed the PM and Environment Secretary Nicholas Ridley had been hoping for.

For me, though it cost me a cricket season, it was fantastic.  At last I knew stuff about the inner political workings of local government that both councillors and officers were actually asking to hear about.  I could jointly run seminars and training programmes for officers and members – including week-long residential programmes for officers from groups of London boroughs – AND even get invited to address AMDP, without senior colleagues sitting in at the back checking me out.

We would discuss the internal, organisational politics of our local government system: the workings of and relations between party groups; one-party committees and sub-committees; the differences between Independent-dominated and ‘politicised’ councils; and, of course, member-officer relations and respective spheres of responsibility, including to electors and service users.

However … it was also during the 1980s that the Jay Inquiry found a root cause of the “widespread” sexual and other abuse of children in ‘care’ to have been the “politicised behaviour and turmoil” (p.vii) that dominated and warped Lambeth’s Labour-controlled council, for which “a succession of elected members and senior professionals ought to have been held accountable” (p.v), and weren’t.

Children were functionally weaponised in a “toxic power game” (p.vii) between Labour councillors and the Thatcher Conservative Government – a project that took precedence over providing quality, or simply adequate and undamaging, services and in 1985/6 over even setting a council tax rate (for which, for the record, 26 Labour councillors were surcharged and disqualified from office).

It’s rather late now to return my training programme fees, and I can’t meaningfully comment on the fundamental changes and redress measures since implemented.  I raise the Lambeth case solely because it loosely links to recent election-related news items I do know something about.

The first is that on 6th May, while I was previewing the various ‘First-Past-The-Post’ or ‘winner-takes-all’ council elections across the West Midlands, voters elsewhere in GB were voting in their sixth sets of Proportional Representation (PR) elections for their respective devolved institutions: the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and London Assembly. There at least, what was once considered radical and even ‘Un-British’ is now the widely supported norm, with versions of PR also used in Scottish local elections and soon, if councils choose, in Wales too.

They are preferred to ‘Winner-takes-all’ because of results like those, for example, in this May’s Warwickshire and Worcestershire County Council elections. The respective Conservative parties took 74% and 79% of their councils’ seats – and four years of statistically comfortable overall policy control – on well under half the respective votes cast.

Just as that 1983 Thatcher Conservative Government won its 144-seat Commons majority with 42% of votes. These unearned bonuses are not just decisive, but gross, distorting, and potentially dangerous. Under even a loosely PR system, that 42% would have given the Conservatives under 300 seats instead of 397, Labour perhaps 180, and the Social Democratic-Liberal Alliance’s 25% vote share a potentially Government-determining 160-plus, instead of just 23.  And that whole fractious decade would have been very different.

Fantasy, of course. But – and finally, the key prompt for this blog – I do distinctly recall discussing, with Lambeth’s 40 Labour and 23 non-Labour councillors, how, had their 1982 local elections been run under any PR system, the chances were that, just as Thatcher probably wouldn’t have been in Downing Street, Labour almost certainly wouldn’t have won control of their 64-seat council.

For the Conservatives had won comfortably most votes, their 39% giving them perhaps 25 seats. Labour’s 33% could have meant not 40, but 22, leaving – as nationally – the Social Democratic-Liberal Alliance councillors holding the balance of power with maybe 17.  And the tragic events recorded in the Jay report would never have happened. The message is obvious: yes, election results shape history, but those results and outcomes are shaped by electoral systems.

There are many variants of PR electoral systems, but all aim to produce parliamentary or council memberships proportionately reflecting actual votes cast. And, conveniently, all three bodies mentioned – the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and London Assembly – use versions of the Additional Member System (AMS).

Voters have two ballot papers. One lists candidates standing for single-member constituencies, the candidate with most Xs winning the seat. The second, usually regional, ballot paper lists the contesting parties and their respective candidates, and the voter’s X goes to their preferred party list. Now the key bit: these list seats are allocated specifically to ensure the overall seat shares in the Parliament/Assembly/Council match as closely as possible the shares of party votes received.

And back in May?  Space here, I’m afraid, only for Scotland, where the nowadays dominant Scottish National Party (SNP) won 62 of the Parliament’s 73 constituency seats – but with under 48% of the constituency vote. The nearly 22% vote shares of the Conservatives and Labour won them just 5 and 2 constituency seats respectively.

These disparities, however, were ironed out in the second, regional votes. The SNP’s 40% vote gained it only two additional seats, giving a total of 64 – just short of an overall majority in the 129-member Parliament, and reflecting its failure to win majorities in either vote.

By contrast, the Conservatives’ 24% regional vote earned them 26 additional seats to total 31.  Labour’s 18% brought them up to 22, and the Greens, without any constituency seats, won 8% of the regional vote, gaining them 8 seats. Which is why, once they understand it, voters tend on balance to like it – because it includes, rather than excludes.

Which, sadly, is the precisely opposite aim of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s planned electoral reforms – from compulsory photo ID to abolishing preferential electoral systems for Mayors, Police Commissioners and the London Assembly. But then inclusivity really isn’t her bag, is it – and, though a Londoner herself, she’s too young to remember 1980s Lambeth.

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A shorter version of this blog – minus the personal INLOGOV bits – was published in the Birmingham Post on 19th August under the title ‘Electoral reform could have prevented tragedy’ (https://www.pressreader.com/uk/birmingham-post/20210819/281956020861052)

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Chris Game is an INLOGOV Associate, and Visiting Professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, Osaka, Japan.  He is joint-author (with Professor David Wilson) of the successive editions of Local Government in the United Kingdom, and a regular columnist for The Birmingham Post.

As the children return to school in September, the change in Pupil Premium funding will see many schools lose out

Cllr Ketan Sheth

Cllr Sheth on a recent visit to a school

Pupil Premium funding for our most disadvantaged children, based on the number of children eligible for free school meals (FSM) data collated every January, provides critical funding to schools for essential resources, which in turn benefits all children. Each FSM successfully registered increases the funding to schools, a substantial amount of which does not reach schools because not all parents who are eligible apply for FSM for their child.

New Government conditions have seen a change in how it is calculated. By shifting from a January date, for calculation, to the previous October date, a stretched borough, such as Brent, now, will have 900 fewer secondary school pupils eligible, amounting to a loss of £860K in their budget. 

Pupils at primary schools fare a little better in Brent; but the picture elsewhere in the country is less kind – 62,000 fewer eligible pupils in primary schools in England, according to FFT Education Datalab analysis of the Department of Education recent figures.

The need for FSM and eligibility is rising, as are casual admissions all year round, due to changes in family incomes. This change results in £90M missing from budgets when schools have already been under intense pressure with lockdown and are attempting to build-up again as we recover following Covid-19.

The result means that the Government has introduced a detrimental lag in funding, which will introduce a current year saving; but will impact on the much needed essential support for children who have had the greatest challenges of home-learning throughout the pandemic and now beyond.

We are often reminded of the mantra: “every child matters”; if we are serious about levelling-up everywhere then we must rethink this decision and how we best support our children, so no child is disadvantage. The time between September, the start of the school year, and January allows for an accurate reflection of school children in need of FSM; and therefore, schools requirement for Pupil Premium. The timing is essential to promote and ensure effective communication with parents/carers, enabling them to register for FSM.

There is some speculation amongst head teachers that the Government may overhaul or perhaps completely remove the funding – this will be catastrophic and a retrograde step for the levelling-up agenda.

Cllr Ketan Sheth is Chair of the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee of Brent Council

Petticoat Council – cheesy name, historic achievement

Chris Game

Nottingham Castle reopened to visitors recently, after a Covid-protracted three-year closure for what was anyway going to be a pretty extensive renovation. Even unrenovated, the castle has always been a good visit, not least for its exhibitions, which now include an enticingly named Rebellion Gallery, whose current Nottingham-focused displays, curated by University of Nottingham historian Dr Richard Gaunt, comprise the Civil War, the Luddite movement, and parliamentary reform with particular emphasis on women’s suffrage.

For reasons that will become clear, it was the last of these that particularly resonated with me – and one (poorly phone-photographed) bar chart in particular.

While its primary aim is presumably to emphasise the length of the continually frustrated campaign for women’s suffrage, it also showed how, near the start of that campaign, some women – those that “met the property ownership requirements” – actually lost their right to vote during the 1830s.

The otherwise franchise-extending 1832 Reform Act specified ‘male persons’ only, depriving at least small numbers of property-owning women of their parliamentary vote until 1918. And the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act excluded them from local elections – until 1869/70, when unmarried women ratepayers were granted the right to vote in first municipal council and then the new school board elections.

Between those dates, though, and with no confounding documentary evidence, it was widely believed, and taught, even in Patricia Hollis’ ‘bible’ – Ladies Elect: Women in English Local Government, 1865-1914 (Appendix B) – that women lost their voting rights completely, just like the 0%, 0%, 0% on the Nottingham bar chart.

Taught by me too, until a few years ago when I caught by chance a BBC Sounds broadcast describing the discovery of documentary evidence of at least some West Midlands women casting votes in local elections decades before those history books told us the 1869 Municipal Franchise Act legalised it.

The BBC programme described the recent discovery in Lichfield Record Office of an 1843 Poll Book. Compiled apparently for local Conservative Party campaigning purposes, it detailed all voters in that year’s St Chad’s Parish election of an Assistant Overseer of the Poor – the bloke (naturally) with responsibility for outdoor (cash) or indoor (workhouse) poor relief.

And of the 371 voters in that 1843 election …. 30 were women, including one, an evidently very well-heeled Grace Brown, with no fewer than four votes. It was a genuine, history-rewriting discovery – though not in fact the main point of this blog.

For that we must turn to the programme’s presenter: Sarah Richardson, nowadays Professor of History at Warwick University, and author of the then recently published The Political Worlds of Women: Gender and Politics in Nineteenth Century Britain.

Totally relevant, obviously, but Richardson’s even more pertinent role here must surely be one unmentioned in her University profile: longstanding Governor and currently Chair of Governors at Bishop’s Itchington Primary School.

Bishop’s Itchington is a South Warwickshire village/parish south-east of Royal Leamington Spa and about 18 miles from Coventry, which, as we’ll see, is more immediately relevant. It has a lengthy history too, its name combining references to the passing River Itchen and the Bishop of the afore-mentioned Lichfield Cathedral.

In many European countries, and unquestionably in France with its 35,000 communes, even its reduced present-day population of around 2,000 would make Bishop’s Itchington what we would call a principal local authority in its own right, with an elected mayor, a full range of local powers and responsibilities, and significant control of its own funding.

But in a middle England parish council, without even these basics, where, you might reasonably ask, is there the potential even for much passing interest, never mind drama?  To which the answer is: in its elected councillors, and, more precisely, those elected in 1949 to form what became the first female majority council in the UK.

It’s a hefty claim, but, in respect of a village/parish whose primary school Chair of Governors just happens to be a national authority on such matters, pretty authoritative.

Profesor Richardson herself summarises – this time on YouTube.  Edith Chapple-Hyam, Chair of the village Women’s Institute, was fed up with the all-male parish council’s lack of action on issues such as accessible electricity and running water, social housing, policing and speed restrictions, the sewage works, and public spaces, particularly for children.

In short, she and her WI members saw areas like Coventry being built up after the War and wanted a piece of the action.  So, when an election was announced, she and five WI committee members submitted their nominations.

Most of the sitting councillors assumed that, as no doubt regularly happened, the election would go uncontested and they would be re-elected by default.  Only one, therefore, bothered to submit his papers before nominations closed.

He was duly elected, but alongside all six women, who effectively – in both senses – took over.  And now, just the 72 years on, the Bishop’s Itchington story has been both informatively and highly entertainingly dramatised as a ‘folk musical’ and one of Coventry’s UK City of Culture 2021 events.

Entitled ‘Petticoat Council’, I saw it myself recently, and the mix of storytelling, song, dance and puppetry melded together by playwright Frankie Meredith – herself the great-niece of Ivy Payne, one of the six victorious councillors – is a delight, unquestionably worth catching if you ever get the chance.

My sole initial reservation had been the slightly cheesy title, for which I was prepared to blame the Americans, who had instantly labelled a very similar women’s power grab in Umatilla, Oregon back in 1916 a ‘Petticoat Revolution’.

But I was wrong. It apparently came from a local newspaper, reporting in 1952 how the men on the council were plotting to “overthrow petticoat rule”, as “the women have been getting too bossy”. Material for a sequel perhaps?

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A version of this blog, with an accompanying photograph – of the councillors, not me – was published in the Birmingham Post on 15th July under the title The ‘Petticoat Council’ and a slice of Midland History

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Chris Game is an INLOGOV Associate, and Visiting Professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, Osaka, Japan.  He is joint-author (with Professor David Wilson) of the successive editions of Local Government in the United Kingdom, and a regular columnist for The Birmingham Post.

Royal Consent – If only I’d known 40 years ago

Chris Game

Queen

Photo credit: West Midlands Police – Royal Diamond Jubilee Visit

The Queen, I learned recently from my Murdoch Sunday newspaper, is “keen to hit her stride again” and indeed is already “ramping up for a very busy summer”.  Unsettling image, a ramping-up 95-year-old.  More personally, though, justification for not feeling too bad about airing a long-term grievance – for, as I’ll explain, I reckon she owes me.

This royal debt dates back to my pre-INLOGOV days, when, as mentioned in a name-dropping blog only quite recently, part of my 1970s was spent endeavouring to interest visiting American students from California’s Stanford University in the similarities and contrasts between their presidential government system and our constitutional monarchy.

Seminar exchanges would go something like this. You Brits call yourselves a constitutional monarchy, so you must have a constitution?  Yep – a set of the most important rules regulating relations between the different parts of the government and the British people.

But not written down?  Of course they’re written down, but in various forms: parliamentary statutes, judge-made laws, works by constitutional ‘authorities’, and what have become accepted conventions.

They’re just not ‘codified’, or fossilised, in an almost unamendable 1787 capital-C Constitutional document like yours – which, incidentally, says almost nothing useful about the US electoral system, political parties, or modern-day powers of its Supreme Court.

Britain’s uncodified, small-c constitution has enabled us, I’d suggest, to assimilate potentially huge changes without agonising for decades about whether and how to amend a capital-C Constitution.

Proof? The 19th Century metamorphosis during Queen Victoria’s reign from a real, if limited, executive monarchy to a virtually ceremonial one or effectively a republic: a state run by the people’s elected parliamentary representatives, but without a directly elected head of state.

[Literally parenthetically, I might add here that I genuinely can’t now recall how much of this stuff I actually believed and how much was pedagogical convenience. I don’t feel I’ve ever wholly supported the UK having an all-encompassing, written capital-C Constitution, as advocated recently for instance by the Lib Dems in their 2019 Manifesto (p.79), and for the Constitution Unit by QMU’s Prof. Douglas-Scott – not least because I’ve found it hard seriously to imagine it actually happening.

[I was, though, and think still am, in favour of something resembling what – in evidence to the (subsequently Conservative-abolished) Commons Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform – Profs George Jones and John Stewart termed a more limited “constitutional settlement governing relationships between central and local government”, giving the latter constitutional recognition as an elected institution].

Back, anyway, to the role, and powers, of that ‘virtually ceremonial’ constitutional monarchy, with which, like most Americans, Stanford students had an almost insatiable fascination.

They knew before arriving that their Berkshire Thameside campus, Cliveden House, had been the country home of the 18th Century Prince of Wales, and staged the first performance of the even then embarrassingly patriotic anthem, ‘Rule, Britannia!’.

They quickly learnt about the Queen owning all the river’s ‘unmarked mute’ swans, having her own Swan Warden, driving without a licence and number plate, and – from glossy US magazines in those pre-Google days – dozens more “incredible powers you didn’t know she has”.

So much truer than I realised!  My role then, however, involved emphasising how most of these incredible powers – even, I guessed, recruiting Swan Wardens – were symbolic, and in practice exercised by others.

Some were easy. Supreme Governor of the Church of England: Henry VIII was certainly hands-on, but nowadays it’s a combo of the PM and Church leaders. Head of the Armed Services: Ministers and the Defence Ministry do policy, armed forces most of the fighting.

Opening and closing Parliamentary sessions, the Queen’s Speech, the Government’s legislative programme, creating members of the Lords – again, all determined by Ministers. Appointing the PM – yes, but following election by their party.

My biggest explanatory problem was Royal Assent and Consent.  Royal Assent is straightforward: the Sovereign’s purely formal agreement that a Bill, passed by both Houses of Parliament, be enacted as law.  Last refused, as all textbooks dutifully record, in 1708.

But check those same textbooks for Royal, or even Queen’s, CONsent, and you’ll be lucky to find much more than the 5-line paragraph graciously offered under ‘The Queen and Parliament’ on the www.royal.uk website: “It is a long-established convention that The Queen is asked by Parliament to provide consent (which is different to assent) for the debating of bills which would affect the prerogative or interests of the Crown”.

Long established maybe, but minimally publicised, discussed and understood. And there’s more. Should the Royals (Charles has a Prince’s Consent too) even suspect that something in any draft Bill might adversely affect their extensive prerogative rights or ‘personal interests’, they can potentially stop it even getting debated, never mind becoming law, and usually without leaving even a written record.

That’s why I reckon they owe me personally – as well as, obviously, all UK citizens (sorry, I forgot: ‘subjects’). Because, while I was wittering to Stanford students about Swan Wardens, none of this seriously important stuff was public knowledge, in the sense of being debated, questioned, researched, quantified, or featuring in even ‘British Constitution’ textbooks.

Instead, there was/is effectively – in both senses – an Establishment connivance, between the leaderships of successive, supposedly democratically accountable Governments and the Royals, to keep all significant details of Royal Consent from us mere voters, taxpayers and university lecturers.

Only quite recently has even its scale become public knowledge, thanks particularly to The Guardian newspaper’s research moles. While I might have guessed at there being maybe two or three Royal Consents a year, it’s actually some ten times that.

The Guardian excavators have compiled a wondrous database of 1,062 parliamentary Bills (and rising) subjected since 1952 to the Queen’s or Prince’s Consent – or ‘royal vetting’, as they put it – from that year’s Clifton Suspension Bridge Bill (no idea why) to the 2020 EU Future Relationship Bill (I’d guess Sandringham and Windsor farming subsidies). All of which the Royals had first go at influencing in their own interests.

One serious purpose of this blog is to draw even some minimal additional attention to this fantastic research base and potential teaching aid – albeit decades too late for me personally.  In 1975, though, I know exactly what I’d have done: given groups of five students a year’s worth, say 25, and asked them to research what in each case they reckoned the Royal Consent hoped to gain.

[The original version of this blog was written for the Birmingham Post, July 1st, 2021, under the title ‘Secrets of Royal Consent that you’ll never hear of’]

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Chris Game is an INLOGOV Associate, and Visiting Professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, Osaka, Japan.  He is joint-author (with Professor David Wilson) of the successive editions of Local Government in the United Kingdom, and a regular columnist for The Birmingham Post.

The surge of migration-related city networks around world: between militancy or co-optation

Thomas Lacroix


In December 2018, a delegation of mayors from various parts of the world attended in Marrakech the signature of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migrations. Their presence was not random: the compact acknowledges local governments as a key level of implementation of its objectives. Cities were largely absent from the international discussions on migration only a decade ago. They are now regarded as a central player of global migration governance, along with states and civil society organisations. This influence is directly related to the surge in the number of migration-related city networks around the world. These networks are lesser-known than their leading mayoral figures such as Marvin Rees in Bristol, Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles, Luca Orlando in Palermo or Valérie Plante in Montreal. But, together, they form a web of interconnected cities advancing a progressive agenda for the welcoming and integration of immigrant populations. In a recently published article of Local Government Studies, I provide a picture of their extend, types and activities. This work draws on a database mustered through internet search between Spring 2019 and July 2020, compiling information on their members, date of creation, activities and funding. Three key findings emerge from this analysis.

First, the surge of such groupings is a relatively recent phenomenon. If city networks are far from being a novelty, their concern for migration issues has been spreading since the early 2000s. Out of the 64 included in this database, 45 have been founded since 2000, and 24 since 2011. Three drivers account for this. In the first place, local authorities occupy a growing place in the agenda of international organisations. A larger share of development aid is geared towards cities (deemed as trustful and less prone to corruption than state administrations). In parallel, local authorities fill a void on issues such as climate change and migration where intergovernmental cooperation is in a deadlock. In consequence, inter- and supranational organisations support the creation of city networks on these strategic issues. In the second place, the wave of decentralisation reforms undergone by Southern and Northern cities since the early nineties have left local authorities with a broader range of responsibilities (including on integration issues), but no more financial resources. Municipalities turn towards alternative sources of financing: project-based funding bids, city to city partnerships, engagement with the private and third sectors. In the third place, the security approach to immigration in receiving countries has affected cities: the growing pressure and precariousness undergone by immigrants hinder their integration prospects. In reaction, many cities develop narratives challenging this security approach. They hail immigrants as economic actors of a vibrant cosmopolitan city or as human beings in need for welfare, education and health support. This engagement has propelled the multiplication of grassroots networks of like-minded cities in want of promoting an alternative management to immigrant populations.

From this follows a second finding, i.e. the distinction between co-opted and grassroots networks. The former, sponsored by external funding bodies, adhere to their agenda. This is true for the URBACT network which stems from the Urban Agenda of the European Union. The latter are spontaneous organisations formed by local authorities in want of sharing a space for common concerns. In the field of migration, this is illustrated by politicised networks opposing state policies: the sanctuary policies movement in the US, the ANVITA association in France, etc. Of course, these categories are porous. Eurocities is a grassroots European network created in the late eighties which is now largely funded by EU institutions. However, the initial conditions of their creation explain the divergent orientations of their activities. Both types foster exchange of experience and best practices, but co-opted organisations have more financial means to support projects while grassroot ones are more likely to engage in lobbying and awareness-raising activities.

 GlobalRégionalNationalTotal
Europe12151239
Amérique du Sud4117
Amérique du Nord 921
Océanie 213
Afrique5219
Asie1115

Third, this surge of migration-related city networks is a global but unevenly distributed phenomenon. 36 are them are located in Europe and North America. If we add to those the 12 world networks connected to these spaces, one counts three quarters of city networks including major immigration country localities among their members. The types and scales of these networks vary in different parts of the world. In Southern countries, they are almost exclusively organisations sponsored by international organisations: Sello migrante network, a group of cities developing welcoming policies for refugees in Latin America and supported by the High Commission for Refugees, is a case in point. In contrast, in North America, they are mostly grassroots networks gathering cities in reaction to policies targeting undocumented migrants: beyond the sanctuary cities movement, Welcoming America and City for Actions are but a few examples. Europe displays a mixed landscape, with co-opted networks supported by the EU or the Council of Europe for the promotion of local integration policies and more recent grassroots organisations reacting to restrictive migration policies.

Image Source: Alpha Stock Images – http://alphastockimages.com/
Original Author: Nick Youngson – link to – http://www.nyphotographic.com/

Thomas Lacroix is CNRS research director in geography affiliated to the Maison Française of Oxford. He works on local migration governance, city networks and the formation of the transnational state. He recently published with Amandine Desille “International Migrations and local Governance” (Palgrave, 2018)

At last, some good news for social care

Jason Lowther

It’s been another tough month for social care.  The House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee concluded that the White Paper  ducked the issue of long term reform, whilst Health Secretary Matt Hancock denied to two parliamentary committees that he’d ever promised to test hospital patients for Covid before discharging them to care homes.  It would be easy for social care colleagues to feel a little unloved.  Good news, then, that a new centre aiming to help adult social care is starting work.

This month, the ‘UK Centre for Evidence IMPlementation in Adult Social Care’ (IMPACT) starts its initial engagement work.  IMPACT aims to both enable practical improvements in adult social care and contribute to longer-term cultural change.  IMPACT will be an ‘implementation centre’, using knowledge from ‘different types of research, the lived experience of people using services and their carers, and the practice wisdom of social care staff’.  It will take a distinctive approach in each of the four nations of the UK, recognising the different policy contexts in each, as well as sharing learning across the UK as a whole. 

Their core belief is based on the words of one of the people using services who has helped to shape proposals for the new centre:

“good support isn’t just about ‘services’ – it’s about having a life”.

The centre aims to provide practical support in implementing evidence, bring stakeholders together to share learning, and create sustainable change in adult social care.   Working with people with lived experience of adult social care services and a range of existing policy and practice partners, their objectives are:

Supporting more widespread use of evidence in adult social care, leading to better carepractices, systems and outcomes for people who use services, their families and communities

Building capacity and skills in the adult social care workforce to work with evidence ofdifferent kinds to innovate, improve care and deliver better outcomes

Facilitating sustainable and productive relationships between the full range of adultsocial care stakeholders to co-create positive change/innovations and improve outcomes for people using adult social care and their families

Improving understanding of the factors which help and hinder the implementation of evidence in practice, and using this to overcome longstanding barriers to positive change

Directed by Professor Jon Glasby from our sister department at the University of Birmingham, the centre has a Leadership Team of 12 other academics, people using social care services, and policy and practice partners – along with a broader consortium of key stakeholders from across the sector.  Funding of £15 million has been provided by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, and the Health Foundation. 

IMPACT will have a one-year establishment phase in which its key projects, delivery models and work programme will be refined in discussion with the sector, ready for delivery (2023-2027).

The initial engagement process includes a survey of stakeholders, to which colleagues working in social care are invited to contribute, to help identify priorities for the sector, and to help develop a draft work programme and ideas for delivery.  It would be great if you could complete a short survey (approx. 10 mins) to help shape the work: https://bham.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9tnuKolsBb3OfGu – this will contribute directly to the design of the work programme and how the new centre develops. 

In addition, there will be five linked ‘IMPACT Assemblies’ (two in England and one each in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) to identify and build consensus around IMPACT’s priorities; test and refine proposed delivery models; and support subsequent scaling up and cultural change.  There will also be a national exercise to build links with user-led organisations and community groups that work with and for people with seldom heard voices.  Finally, there will be a review and synthesis of the key principles and frameworks currently used in social care and health to support co-production.  If you want to find out more as IMPACT starts its work, please email [email protected] with your name, role and location.  There is more information via the website and a recent article in the social care trade press.

It’s exciting to see this centre starting its important work, especially given the long delays to the promised White Paper on social care and the critical challenges facing the sector after Covid.

picture source: The Guardian

Jason Lowther is Director of the Institute for Local Government Studies (INLOGOV), University of Birmingham