Twenty years on from my first role in local government in Birmingham as a graduate researcher, I returned last May as the newly elected Labour Councillor for Moseley and Kings Heath. An area that prides itself on once being home to Joseph Chamberlain, it is now a very diverse urban area challenged by the impact of Government policy. Yet through its rich legacy of community action and municipal endeavour, it is sufficiently invigorated and engaged to seek to secure collaborative advantage within an age of austerity and localism in terms of our local context – different with less.
Given my professional role, as a newly elected politician I was already live to the changing nature of public services. For many years I have been attuned to and supportive of the notion of the city region, understanding that there is no single correct spatial scale for the shaping and making of place. Research and an inquiry I recently led into Birmingham’s devolution has highlighted that if localism is about anything it is about making the right decision – in the right place – at the right time- with the right people, who have the ability to make the difference. Only then can you ensure that services and policy are shaped to local need and requirement.
Having professionally supported the work of the Bishop of Birmingham’s Social Inclusion Process – Giving Hope Changing Lives – I, along with many of my political colleagues, and with all due respect to the professionals, am acutely aware of the critical challenges facing Birmingham. Even in the times of growth and full scale government intervention, little impact has been made upon patterns of deprivation and exclusion within the City. Through my political role I quite rightly demand a fair deal for cities such as ours, however my professional head also likes to remind me that those of us engaged in place-based policy delivery during the last Government would question the benefit of the top down target driven culture and Whitehall driven policy.
The pragmatists amongst us realise we are living in very different times and that we will have to do different with less; and that a new contract and understanding is required between state and citizen, in terms of for example reasserting previously unchallenged rights such as the right to live free from poverty, accompanied by core responsibilities to our fellow citizens and community. Local communities and local government need to reach a new accommodation in terms of control and influence over the delivery of core local services and inclusive growth. For the health and well-being of our society as well as our citizens, we need to combine our understanding of impact and motivate the government to re-engage with key responsibilities around the planning and provision of education, health and economic growth.
The social inclusion process has suggested to me that we need to reach and assert a new common purpose, where a key driver for public policy is the delivery of a more just and cohesive society, and not just because it is a good thing but because it makes basic economic sense. If we as politicians and policy makers choose to not engage it will not be just the current generation that pays the price but our children and our children’s children – especially if they happen to live outside the Tory heartlands!
Lisa Trickett is Director of Civic Engagement at Birmingham Business School. Until recently she was the Project Director for the national ‘Leadership of Place’ combined research and knowledge transfer programme which was delivered in collaboration with the UK Homes and Communities Agency; and has also led the development of a range of tailor-made knowledge transfer programmes for NGOs, regional bodies, local authorities and professional bodies. In 2012, Lisa was elected as Councillor for Moseley and Kings Heath, and also serves as Chair of the Districts and Public Engagement Overview and Scrutiny Committee.