Communities and Local Government Committee - Mutual and cooperative approaches to delivering local services - Minutes of EvidenceHC 112

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House of commons



Communities and Local Government Committee

The Co-operative Council

Wednesday 16 May 2012

COUNCILLOR Steve ReEd, COUNCILLOR Barbara Brownridge and COUNCILLOR Ian Parry

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 77



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee

on Wednesday 16 May 2012

Members present:

Mr Clive Betts (Chair)

Heidi Alexander

Bob Blackman

Simon Danczuk

Bill Esterson

Stephen Gilbert

David Heyes

James Morris

Mark Pawsey

Heather Wheeler


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Councillor Steve Reed, Leader, London Borough of Lambeth, Councillor Barbara Brownridge, Portfolio Holder, Co-operatives and Community Development, Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, and Councillor Ian Parry, Deputy Leader, Staffordshire County Council, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Welcome, and thank you for being on time. Thank you very much for coming to this first evidence session of the Committee’s inquiry into the Co-operative Council. Just for the sake of our records, could you say who you are and the organisation you represent?

Cllr Parry: Ian Parry, Staffordshire County Council.

Cllr Reed: Steve Reed, Leader of Lambeth Council.

Cllr Brownridge: Barbara Brownridge, Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council.

Q2 Chair: Thank you, and you are all most welcome to our session. If you simply agree with what somebody else has said there is no need to repeat it, just indicate your agreement, but I am sure we are here to have a good discussion about the various things that are going on in your authorities and where they may be taken to in the future on this particular subject.

To begin, I think some of your evidence suggested-it is slightly unusual to begin at this point-that our terms of reference were slightly wrong and probably a bit constrained and narrow, and that we should not simply be looking at co-operatives as particular mutual institutions but as a different way for councils to operate as a whole. Would you like to say something about how you see your council as being co-operative, just as a starting point?

Cllr Reed: I can’t necessarily speak for everybody else, but, yes, the premise that underlay your series of questions was that we were seeking to deliver services through co-operatives, which is not what the councils in the Co-operative Councils Network are aiming to do. That may be the case, but the reason we called it "Co-operative" is that we are looking for closer co-operation between the providers of the services and the users of the services in order to get more responsive services that better meet the needs of the people who live in the communities that are affected or who use the particular service in question.

Creating that closer co-operation requires a rebalancing of the power relationship, so that you can move from an adult or a parent/child relationship between the provider and the user to a more adult/adult relationship. Rebalancing the power relationship in that way will quite often mean delivering services in different ways and creating different structures to deliver them than we have had currently. That may involve co-operatives, but it may not.

Cllr Parry: I think it is a slightly different story from Staffordshire in that we see this as an opportunity as far as a transformation programme in local government is concerned, and that is about becoming more of a commissioning organisation and for us to redesign the services that we provide and to right provide them, I think is the jargon. So we are very keen on building up capacity on the supply side of provider service provision and to work with communities, voluntary organisations, charities and anyone else who feels that they can provide services locally or across county in a way that is more efficient, offers better value and, of paramount importance, of equal or better service quality.

Cllr Brownridge: I think we steer more towards the first model. We see this as an opportunity to step back and re-evaluate what councils are for and what we ought to be doing, and that will involve far greater interaction with the people who receive those services with the idea that they tell us as much as we tell them. At the moment, I agree with Steve; I think we are very paternalistic in our approach and what we are looking to do is to say to people, "Right, we all understand the world we live in now. We have to make some hard choices about what it is we do and do not do, and we want you, the people who are going to benefit or not from those services, to help us decide what the priorities are."

That will be the first step-what is it a council should do, and it may not be what councils do at the moment. In fact, it almost certainly will not be because we will not be able to provide the depth and breadth of services that we have done in the past, because we just do not have the money any more. It is a matter of prioritising and building in something we like to call social value. So you are not just looking at pure economics. You are looking at the quality of what you are delivering and the quality of what people can get out of it, so that everything that we do, whoever provides that service-and it may be the council, it may be a mutual, it may be the private sector, it may be a combination of those-but the bottom line is the value of what we are providing, which must be delivered, it must be what the public wants, and we must be accountable and answerable if that is not what happens.

Q3 Chair: Why is that co-operative?

Cllr Brownridge: Because you are talking about a co-operation between the people, the officers and the councillors and the general public who are, at the moment, the receiver of services. Rather than us telling them what they can have, they can be involved, and that will mean some of the things the council does they will have to do for themselves. We will say to them, "You have to choose. There are some things you could do the council does not have to do. We do not have to come and pick up the litter in your street every week; you could do that," and that frees us up to do something else that you will decide is more important. So it is a co-operation of the people who use the services and provide them, whoever that provider might be, and much more involvement in that, so an involvement in what those services should be and an involvement in delivering them and how they are delivered.

Cllr Reed: Can I add to that, because Barbara got it right there. This is not so much about the process of delivery, not the mechanisms of delivery; it is more about the outcomes that you get. Our observation is that we need to rethink the relationship between the citizen and the state because the state, in too many cases-we are talking about the local level here, but I think the lessons apply to nationally delivered services as well-has become too powerful relative to the citizen.

One of the reasons that we are finding too many people who are highly socially excluded, locked into dependency, is not, as you sometimes hear from Government Ministers, because of the level of benefits that they are being offered. It is because of the way we deliver public services that locks them into a relationship of dependency on the state and caps their self-reliance and aspiration-their ability to take choices for themselves. In the same way that you would change or adjust the tax system to change behaviours by taxpayers, the way that you run public services affects the behaviours and the reactions of the people that are using them. When the state seeks always to take away the problem from the individual and deal with it for them, you lock them out of having any ability to participate in decisions that affect their lives. The more excluded you are, the more you rely on public services, the more that ability to choose is taken away from you and the more you are locked into models of dependency. So we are seeking to re-empower people, but the people who need re-empowering most of all are the people who are the most highly dependent.

Q4 Heidi Alexander: Some of the language that Barbara and Steve have used, in particular, is somewhat reminiscent of Big Society language. Is it the same, or is it different?

Cllr Reed: We were on the front page of The Guardian in February 2010 with this model before David Cameron had ever mentioned the Big Society, so you might put that question back to him in reverse. I think what is happening is there is some overlap, but also the Government is seeking to use some of this language of co-operation to mean things other than what we would mean by it. I think from the Conservative Party there is still an interest in privatisation as an end in itself. We are not seeking to privatise; we are seeking to run services in ways that empower the people that use them without necessarily seeing privatisation as the means to deliver as an end in itself. If you look at a lot of the Big Society projects or the work of the mutuals taskforce, they quite often talk about empowering the workers or creating worker-led co-operatives or mutuals to deliver public services.

If my analysis is right and it is the relative disempowerment of the user that is the problem, then creating an alternative producer-led model does not deal with the problem at all. But that seems to be where the Big Society is heading. So I think a key distinction is that we are seeking to empower the user relative to the provider and the Big Society is not necessarily trying to do that.

Cllr Parry: I would argue that empowering does not do it. We can empower all we like, but unless there is capacity and capability within that sector then all you have is a lot of goodwill, a lot of fine words, but no real action. This is not about commissioning services on the cheap. It is about doing it differently. It is about engaging communities to allow them to shape those services and, where they want to, to take ownership of those services. Where they take ownership of those services, often the citizen, the recipient, in that locality values those services greater, understands the complexities sometimes and the delivery of those services, and has some personal, social and sometimes financial investment in providing those services that can improve the quality and delivery and the way that communities value them.

We are not out, as a local authority, just to do things on the cheap. We are out to right commission them in the locality. We have put in place what we call our district commissioning leads-a set of individuals who are local business managers, if you like, in districts who work closely with all of our partners and social providers in the voluntary independent sector and others-to ensure that the relationships are right, that they are doing those things about involving and engaging communities and shaping services and that we are assisting them wherever possible in performance management. In some areas, certainly in the voluntary independent sector, it is that area of structure and management and development that they often lack the skills in, and I think if we put that in place we can help to-we are not trying to do that, but we think if we can empower because I think part of the weakness in all of this is a number of things: firstly, assuming that capacity exists already and all we have to do is empower it; and secondly, there are some risks in terms of sustainability, in terms of capability and capacity to deliver over time. In some areas where we take the risk of people eroding part of what we already do, over time that could affect the sustainability of that core service. If, for example, people started to take on the roles of running libraries, we have to manage the central overhead of all of that, and as libraries disappear down the road, the erosion of that overhead has to be tailored in the same way, taken in the same way. So there are complexities and issues around these things in terms of identifying parcels of activities that people could logically get involved in and trying to lift and shift that into a voluntary and independent sector. There are all sorts of risks around that.

We have tried all sorts of things around this-"business in a box" ideas. We have engaged with our staff. We have engaged with local communities to say, "Look, we are up for it. We are easy to do business with; we will support you, but what we can’t do is be unfair." We are not going to give internal staff a greater opportunity or subsidise them in any built-in way or any unfair way to be able to compete unfairly with other parts of the private or independent sector. It has to be a level playing field. We can’t use public money to subsidise somebody else’s business idea that might occur even though it is done on a co-operative basis. We see some risks around this; we see some complexities around this; but we are committed to doing it, but we are doing it with our eyes open, and it is not just about engagement.

Q5 Bill Esterson: I wanted to follow up Ian’s comments and his point about commissioning. In my recollection of where commissioning comes from, going back 15 years or so, the idea was it was the next step from compulsory competitive tendering where the council stood there and dished out the contracts once a year or whatever. I am struggling to see how this fits either with the co-operative council model that the Co-operative Councils Network identifies or the different definition that we have used in our inquiry. My understanding is that commissioning could be to a private business for profit or to a voluntary organisation or to a co-operative or mutual, but I don’t see how what you are suggesting makes you a co-operative council under either definition.

Cllr Parry: I think your definition, with respect, is rather loose. But for me commissioning is a posh word for buying. We have organisations out there that we currently commission, voluntary organisations largely, charitable organisations that we commission to provide services for us. We could if we wanted to, and we are doing in some cases, commission a local community to run a local facility for us, but at the end of the day the accountability to the wider population is with us. We are the demographically accountable body, but we commission those organisations to run it for us in a co-operative way, so they run it co-operatively and we are commissioning that service from them. I see that as quite clearly fitting with that co-operative model.

Q6 Bill Esterson: But is the whole council going to be run in that way?

Cllr Parry: Our objective in the whole council is to move to as much of a commissioning council as possible, which means we right commission from voluntary, independent, private sector wherever we feel that is appropriate. Largely that can be from a voluntary or independent sector or charity.

Q7 Bill Esterson: But that is not a co-operative approach as such. That is a mixture.

Cllr Parry: Yes, it is a mixed approach, absolutely. I do not know how you get to a fully co-operative approach.

Cllr Reed: I think there would be a difference in emphasis around commissioning from us as well, in that I am interested in community-led commissioning. The question is always how do you empower the community to have more control over the decision all the way through? Commissioning through the council itself is still the council taking the decisions that the community has to live with. We are looking at a model of community-led commissioning that I have taken in part from Turning Point-do you know Turning Point?-and the connector care model that they use, which involves training up people in their user group-in this case it happens to be people living with mental ill-health-to engage with other of their peers, other people using the services. The reason we do that is as a part of a peer group they have greater reach and credibility over the other people using the service. You use the information they gather from that process, sit down with our, or their, procurement experts. They have identified their own set of needs. We sit down with them and procure against that set of needs. So it is the community, in this case people with mental ill-health, who are leading the decision-making.

We are applying that to youth services and the reason we are doing that is we have issues in some of our estates-in Brixton in particular, but elsewhere as well. We have very high levels of young people engaged in violent youth gangs, carrying knives, carrying guns, killing each other. You will all have seen examples of this when it hits the headlines. At a lower level it is going on all the time. In those estates, you have extremely high levels of unemployment, quite often passed down from generation to generation, so young people have no experience or socialisation into the idea of work and believe work is not something they can access, and the majority of young people on an estate are in a gang of one kind or another. The interventions that we have been carrying out as the public sector have clearly not been effective enough, because the incidents of violent youth crime is rising, not falling, despite the vast amount of money that we are spending on attempting to stop it.

That is an issue for me, but it is a much bigger issue for a mother living on one of those estates whose child is starting to get involved in the gang. Her child’s life is at risk, potentially. His future is certainly under severe threat, and en route to doing that he will destroy the fabric of the community around him with other young people that are getting involved in gangs in that way. Parents and communities in that circumstance very often believe that the state is not doing the right things to deal with the problem that they are facing. Very often, they will come and thump and bang and shout and demand things are done differently. More often, unfortunately, they will just sit back and allow these things to happen and see their children’s lives get ruined. In some cases you will see on estates like that parents taking action for themselves-not just parents; they will engage local faith groups, other community organisations, other parents, older young people who have got out of these problems. They will start taking action for themselves like running football teams, making connections with locally available services, making connections with local businesses or the college, setting up informal peer mentoring schemes, and they will have higher levels of success in steering young people away from danger than the statutory services are having.

Our view is that instead of the council running services over here that are having limited effect and the community down here either fighting against the council for not listening to them or doing their own things that have a bigger impact, bring the two together. By using a community-led commissioning model, we can make our resources available to the community, so that they can use our resources to fight the problem rather than waste their energy fighting the system. There are mechanisms that you can bring into that to ensure that it is the entire community that is involved in this decision-making, not just a self-selecting subset.

I think this facilitated model of engagement that we have taken from Turning Point offers a means to do that. We train up people from the affected community to engage with their peers, look at the data and information that comes out of that and then identify with them a pattern of provision that will meet their needs and look at how we can procure against those needs. In some cases that will be through the community itself, so creating employment opportunities, but where a higher level of technical expertise is required, helping to identify sources externally can bring those services in. That is co-operation between the council and the community in dealing together with a problem that they are facing. My view is that it will be far more effective at dealing with the problem than what we currently do, which is to tell them what is going to happen, and it does not work.

Q8 Heather Wheeler: Thank you very much. They are long and detailed answers to the first set of questions that the Select Committee have for you. I am fascinated by Unison’s approach to this-they suggest that the concept of the co-operative council would not be anything other than rhetoric. What is your view on that?

Cllr Reed: I just gave an example of the exact opposite, I think.

Q9 Heather Wheeler: The headline is, "Councillor Steve Reed says Unison is wrong".

Cllr Reed: In this case, yes, they are. That is not the first time I have had to contradict things that some of our union friends have said. We got to this not by sitting in a dark room and getting some policy wonks to think up how things might be different. We looked at what was working in our borough and whether there were things that those services had in common. It looked to me that the higher the level of engagement by the people using the service you had, the more effective the service would be, by and large. For instance, we had a community clean-up operation that got the community involved in identifying pieces of derelict space that had been a blight on their community for many years. Traditionally the council would just come in every six or 12 months, raze it to the ground and then the problem would recur; the brambles would regrow, the rubbish would be dumped again. We found that if we got the local community involved in doing the clearing up and gave them the resources, the tools, the wood, the seedlings, whatever, to turn it into something desirable then the problem would not recur because they would look after it. But you also got a benefit from greater levels of community cohesion in the locality. That is not replacing public sector jobs with volunteers; it is doing something that was not being done that strengthened communities.

We have a children’s centre that is run by a management board made up of the local community in a facility that they built themselves after we asset-transferred a disused laundrette that had sat there for 30 years in the middle of this estate. It is one of the most successful children centres in our borough. We have the country’s only parent-promoted secondary school, which was set up after a consultation run by parents in the West Norwood area of Lambeth. That was so successful that in terms of applications, before the school had even opened, it was one of the most popular schools in the borough. That is a remarkable thing for a school that does not exist at the time but shows the credibility that you can build by involving the community more strongly.

On co-operative housing, just over the river, Coin Street is a very well known co-operative housing scheme. In the UK only 0.6% of our housing is co-operative. In Germany or Canada, it is about 10%; in Scandinavia, it is about 20%. I am very interested in expanding the amount of co-operative housing because it gets rid of this quite artificial divide that we see between tenants and leaseholders on our estates. It gives people on low or fixed incomes the opportunity to meet their aspiration to own, but without sucking them into sub-prime lending or the risk of repossession, because if you are building up an equity asset over time and your income collapses you do not lose your home; you retain the equity you have built up. You just stop buying more until your income recovers. But the community itself has more control over the housing that they are living in. You will know from your own patch, I am sure, very often tenants are highly dissatisfied with the quality of their housing and the quality of the management of that housing.

Q10 Heather Wheeler: Fortunately, we have the fifth best council housing in the whole of the country. Councillor Parry and Councillor Brownridge, how would you suggest that you are going to measure success?

Cllr Brownridge: Can I just comment on the union part first, if you do not mind, because I think if we do not involve the unions, we can hardly be called a co-operative council if we are not even co-operating with our own workforce. That would be a shot in the foot. In terms of my council, the actual work we have done so far and our public approach to this has been co-designed with the workforce and with the trade unions. We come from the point of view that we think the public sector has a lot of expertise in the field of council services and to throw all that away and just say, "Let’s go to the private sector," and that is not to say the private sector doesn’t have things to teach us as well, I am not saying that, but there is a lot of expertise in the public sector that we need to build on. Like Steve, our view is that if you are delivering the services that people want, the job satisfaction in being a part of that is much greater than just going out and doing something over and over again that nobody appreciates and does not like. So there is every incentive to involve your workforce, because if you do not take them along with you, it is just not going to work.

One of the things we have done in Oldham, which Lambeth have now pinched off us, is that we have said to the members of staff we will support them on three days a year if they want to go out in the community, use their knowledge to volunteer and help out in the community. That has been an overwhelming success. Staff really signed up to that, so much so that a lot of them have continued to do that volunteering over and above the days that are supported by the council.

What we have said is specific issues will arise as the process goes down the road. We are pledged to discuss those individual issues with the trade unions and come hopefully to an agreement, but so far they are totally committed and fully with us.

Q11 Heather Wheeler: How will you measure success? How will your punters know that you are doing a good job?

Cllr Brownridge: How we will measure success is that we have more public engagement, because that is what this is about, to my mind. The fact that we have such pathetic turnouts in local elections is a severe worry. Anybody who is interested in democracy should be worried that people feel no incentive or obligation or benefit from voting and taking part in local democracy. So this is very much about saying to our electorate, "Right, we are going to treat you like mature people, like we as voters always say we want to be treated. We are going to tell you the problems we have. We are going to get you to help us decide how we are going to deal with the drastic cuts that we are having in budgets." The proof of whether that works will be that we will have more public engagement.

Like my colleagues here, we are devolving budgets down to a local level. We have the local hub now; we have the local town manager; we have youth services devolved; we have street cleaning devolved. We have a small budget, not an enormous budget but a budget, and each area decides how to spend it.

So the proof will be that that works, that people start engaging, and the onus is on us as ward councillors. It will be a much bigger responsibility for ward councillors. They will have to be out there doing this. It is going to be a shock to a lot of us, I think, but we are going to be out there. We are going to have to engage properly with our communities, and we are going to have to be accountable, because if they say to us, "Our priority is this," and we say, "Well, tough, we are going to do something else," we are going to have to have a damn good explanation as to why we are doing something else.

Q12 Heather Wheeler: Thank you very much. Councillor Parry, how do you think you are going to measure success?

Cllr Parry: Satisfaction. Greater ownership. Greater value. Reduced bureaucracy. Overall improved services. That is about it. We don’t give our staff time off to do voluntary work. We have a very good voluntary scheme in Staffordshire, and we expect people who don’t get paid to take time off to volunteer, to volunteer. I think it is a social duty rather than something we incentivise financially people to do.

Q13 David Heyes: Both Barbara and Steve have used transactional terminology about getting away from a parent/child relationship, creating an adult/adult relationship. Clearly, that is desirable. I can see that particularly what Steve said about developing community-led commissioning and training of service users is involving people and taking it forward, maybe in a social services context, but where I struggle is to understand where the evidence is that across the board, across the whole range of council services, service users really do want a greater role in the design and production of services. Where is the evidence for that?

Cllr Reed: I think what is interesting about this agenda is that the innovation is not in any of the particular services that we are looking at. You can always go and find an example of a co-operatively run service in any particular service area somewhere in the country. The innovation is trying to do it across all the services at once. You can go and find examples of where it has worked in any particular service and talk to the people that are delivering it and the people that are using it and hear from them, and they are often quite evangelical about the benefits to them in doing it.

The core reason why people would participate in this way-I should roll back a bit. It is important to understand the difference between participation and volunteering. This is not an agenda that expects people to volunteer to do things that the state is no longer doing. It is a model of participation, and people will participate in decisions that are being taken about them if it matters enough to them what the outcome is.

Back to my youth services example, if you have a mother on an estate, and I have met mothers in this circumstance, whose 13-year-old boy-it is usually boys-is getting involved in a violent youth gang, that mother wants that child’s life pulled back on track. She does not want her child getting into that kind of life. She sees public services, as they are currently being run, failing to deal with that problem. She wants to be involved in the decision-making process because she believes, and she is right, that as a mother living in that community, she has insights and views that need to be taken into account in the design of the services that are going to meet that need. That is why she will participate, because she has a vital interest in what the outcome is.

What we are not asking her to do is run the service. We are simply trying to find a mechanism that allows her and people like her to be able to influence the decisions that will affect her child’s life and therefore her household. This is not about replacing professionals with amateurs or paid staff with volunteers. It is about allowing the people who are affected by the decision to have full participation in what that decision is, and that requires a change in the power relationship between the provider and the user.

Q14 David Heyes: I want to hear what Barbara has to say, but that seemed to me like a restating of your view on it, and I do not have a feel from you where in your local context-the evidence is that there is a movement by service users, by your citizens to want to be more involved in all this. Clearly, you think it is a sensible thing to do. Actually, I do, but what-

Cllr Reed: Shall I give you an example? Does that help? Just in the run-up to the elections, David Miliband visited the ward that I represent, Brixton Hill ward, and I took him to Blenheim Gardens Estate, which is a council-owned estate in the middle of Brixton. Ten years ago, that estate had very low levels of interactivity between the people who lived there. The central part of the estate, which is called the Mall, was a place where drug dealers hung out. People were frightened to go out of their homes. They were dissatisfied with the quality of housing management. Repairs were slow to be done and were done inadequately. The time that it took to re-let an empty property was higher than the average in Lambeth.

Since then, we have set up a tenant management organisation on the estate. All of those problems have been remedied. The Mall that was a drug-dealing corridor has now been turned into a pleasant green space that the entire community uses, including young people. They have community growing schemes on there. The level of rent collection has gone from below the average in Lambeth to close to 100% per annum. The quality of the repairs service is so high that I no longer get any complaints about it. I have not had a complaint for years in my casework bag, and I get many from estates that are still directly run by the council.

Taking Mr Miliband around the estate and knocking on doors, person after person after person was saying, "I love living here. I would not want to live anywhere else. It is such a great community to be part of." David asked them, "Would you want it to go back to how it was before the tenants were in control?" No, they did not. They wanted it to stay as it was. In fact, they are exploring models to give themselves more control in future by either becoming a self-standing Registered Social Landlord (RSL) or becoming a housing-co-operative.

Q15 David Heyes: I live in Oldham Borough, as you well know. I do not detect a popular clamour to-

<?oasys [pc10p0] ?>Cllr Brownridge: No, but I think you are asking us to prove we are innocent. The fact is that there is not that clamour because people have never been offered this opportunity, and what Steve sees is when they are offered the opportunity they seize it with both hands. I think the evidence is that people, by and large, are not happy with the services councils are providing for them. I think that is your actual evidence, that the system is not working as well as it should be and the fact that the budgets are being slashed is highlighting the problem. It did not matter too much when we were delivering lots of universal services. The fact that they did not necessarily work completely across the whole borough did not matter that much because you have a higher level of service. If we are talking about having to start eating into that service, it is incredibly important that what we do deliver delivers, otherwise we are just wasting money we do not have.

I think the evidence is that when you-like in Oldham in our Aiming High programme for disabled children, we have gone to the parents and said, "Right, you are the parents, you are the carers. What could we do to tweak this to make it better?" and they will tell you because they are receiving it; they know what they need. So I suspect it is because we have not gone out properly and asked people before. I think you are right: the hardest part is going to be reaching the sections of our community that Steve alluded to, the most deprived who are not used to taking responsibility, do not feel they have anything to offer and are too busy surviving to care very much. They are the people. We have to make sure this does not just benefit nice middle-class people who know how to work the system but goes across the board and helps people who at the moment are very grateful for what they get, even though it might not be what they want.

Cllr Parry: I think it is about three things. It is about appropriateness; it is about appetite; and it is about opportunity. Appropriateness, because it is simply best practice to ask service users what they want and what they need. You can break that down. We can all offer you examples of where that works well, whether that is in a housing environment, whether that is in an education environment, where local people will come together and help to shape a service because they are the service user and they can tell you what they want, and they can form themselves into some sort of group in some way and they can get involved. That is where the appetite comes in. Is there an appetite to want to do that? Some people just want to pay their tax, go out to work, come home at the end of the day and find their dustbin has been emptied. They do not necessarily want to engage in telling you how to do it.

On the appropriate level of engagement, I do not necessarily want to engage people and ask them how we should lay tarmac. I will ask them what our priority should be in terms of whether we should do a repair on a needs basis or on a time basis or whatever. There are certain ways and certain things we can ask and engage people in.

Then finally to opportunity, and that is, do people know that they have an opportunity? Do they know there is a vehicle or a channel at which they can input at certain levels? It may well be that they want to be fully engaged in it, decide what colour their front door is going to be painted and how their open spaces are going to be managed and things like that. But they may not necessarily want to be engaged in how the potholes get filled. They may well want to do that. We have to provide those opportunities and chance for it. So, for me it is around those three things.

Q16 David Heyes: This is a last follow-up question to each of you. I will start with Barbara again because of our local knowledge. I would be concerned about how you make sure that all or a very large proportion of your citizens are involved, rather than just a vocal minority. We know who the usual suspects are. I suspect you and I would put the same names on a list if we were to sit down. They are vocal. Maybe they are the people Steve referred to as evangelists. How representative are they, and how do you stop the whole thing that you are about being hijacked by them?

Cllr Brownridge: I think you have put your finger on the big problem with this agenda. I do not argue or run away from that at all. I think that is where the onus is on the local ward councillors who are going to be leading this process. They have to go out there and talk to them, because Ian is right: it is about opportunity, and huge swathes of our community do not know there is that opportunity. It is all right saying to them, "Tell us what you want," but if you say to people, "What do you want?" they don’t usually know. They know what they don’t want, but they don’t usually know what they want. It is very much going to be a matter of it being led by the ward councillors as community leaders to go out there and discover this and educate people and help people to understand it.

I am not going to pretend it is easy because I don’t think it is. I think that is going to be the hardest part of it all, but it seems to me it is very much a matter of us going out there, being far more proactive, far more constructive. Rather than just say, "Oh, we have a pothole, we will get it fixed," we have to be out there saying, "It is a choice between this and this." The important point is it will be different for each of the different areas. I think that is the fundamental point-we are saying it does not have to be the same in Saddleworth as it is in Coldhurst. Needs will be different in that part of the borough, so it is a matter of us teasing out what those needs are. It may be at the beginning we have to make some of those choices ourselves, because the public will not be with us and once we start delivering the wrong thing then they will be saying, "That is not what we need." So it is going to be an ongoing dialogue. It is not going to be, "Right that is the solution this week." It seems to me it is very much making an opportunity for both sides to keep talking to each other for ever, not just for two years or three years, but a dialogue will exist as long as the system delivers any sort of services.

Cllr Reed: Can I just add to that, because I take a slightly different view, if you don’t mind?

Cllr Brownridge: I do.

Cllr Reed: That sectional capture, whether by the sharp-elbow middle classes, one group, any other group that seeks to get control ahead others is a risk within this agenda certainly, but the advantage of knowing that it is a risk upfront is that you can mitigate it. The reason that we are focusing in my borough on the community-led commissioning model is I think it gets you round that risk. What we are not saying is, "Right, we want you to get involved in taking decisions on estate X about youth services that are going to be delivered there. Come to a meeting at the town hall at 7 pm on Wednesday," because you will only ever get a particular subset of people that will be in a position or have the inclination to come along to that. That is how you get takeover by one particular sectional interest. The reason that we are going for this community-led commissioning model of facilitated engagement, training up people from the particular community or the particular user group to go out and engage with their peers, is that that way you get past the people who would always turn up to a meeting like that and talk to the people who never would dream of coming. So you can reach right into the community, get right under the skin of the community and understand deeply what their needs are, then sit down with our procurement people and procure against that.

The other benefit of that kind of commissioning model is that you can have decommissioning as well, so you have a much more immediate and direct accountability to the community that is at the receiving end of the service, because if they don’t like it, they can decommission it and replace it with something else. So it is not dependent on people self-selecting and turning up. There is no question of the sharp-elbow middle classes getting their hands on it because we are using a model that avoids it.

Cllr Parry: I am afraid that is part of life. I am sure that you as Members of Parliament-and I know with local councillors-probably have the same experience. I had that experience with my division. You would think road safety was an area where you could really engage with the community and get some valuable feedback. I had a small minority of people kicking off about speeding on a particular road and turning up at parish council meetings, "And we want speed humps." "Of course you do-the most popular thing going." They were adamant, and so was the local parish councillor, that we need speed humps in this road. I said, "We are not doing it until you have contacted every resident in this road, the whole damn road, get them into the village hall, and we’ll have a chat." So we all come into the village hall, we have a chat and I said, "Right, folks. Who in this village hall would like speed humps?" and of course those few people put their hands up. "Who wouldn’t?" and the whole thing went up as against.

We know that small minorities can control and influence far more than their numbers should justify, and I think we have to be careful. We wrong provide very often in local government because we misjudge. What we have to do is best practice in terms of listening and understanding, analysing, finding the evidence base and trying to develop things and testing them out first. It is not a question of just listening to a few. It is a question of trying to scope things out and taking the widest possible evidence and, if you like, survey customer contact that you can possibly do.

Cllr Brownridge: I understand this also. We have these different districts now and we are focusing on people who live in them to take pride and pleasure in living in them. So you are going to try and reach a wider section, again not just the people who are politically or community active, but people who are residents, to encourage them to take a real pride, to say, "I live in such and such a ward." That is great, and become involved that way, plus all the usual things, the tweeting and twittering and whatever you do. That passes me by, but using all these new media, we get in touch with the folk who don’t do it like I do, by paper. I use e-mails but definitely not Twitter.

Q17 Mark Pawsey: Chairman, Heidi asked whether our witnesses were talking about the Big Society. As I have listened to Councillor Reed talking about a mother being able to influence what goes on that affects her son and the likely changes that David Miliband saw when you took him to an estate, and as I listened to Councillor Brownridge talking about the local ward councillors leading the process and that we need different things in different parts of the borough, and Councillor Parry talking about engaging with the local community in a village hall about speed humps, you are talking about localism. That is a broad principle of the Government, which is to get as much decision-making power down to as local a level as possible and then you will get more engagement. This is simply localism by another fancy name, isn’t it?

Cllr Brownridge: No. No, it is not.

Q18 Mark Pawsey: On what basis do the principles you are talking about differ from localism?

Cllr Parry: I think this is the problem. This is where we are at with this. Localism, Big Society, co-operative councils-there is a little bit of a blur around all of this stuff. I could go out into the street and I could probably get as many definitions of those things as there could possibly exist. There is a lack of clarity sometimes around these things. We all believe in what it is, which is from a local government point of view we need to start to try to dismantle some of the things that we do and see if we can’t provide them in a better way, with more engagement by local communities and with people being involved in shaping and valuing those things. I think local authorities or government of any size or nature can’t do everything, and I think there has to be some movement back from communities to get involved in some of these things, to actually gap fill with us. That is what we are meant to do.

Yes, we were peppering our evidence to you with anecdotal stuff about housing estates and potholes and speed humps. I was using that as an example of the way that some people can take over these things, and what we have to be mindful of when we are engaging with communities is that we do take the widest evidence base and not just the narrow evidence base.

Cllr Reed: I think it doesn’t matter if there is some crossover between what Mr Cameron calls a Big Society and what we call co-operative councils. It goes way further back than that, doesn’t it, of course? We had double devolution 10 years ago; five years ago we had communities in control; today it is called the Big Society. The point is it has never been done, including by the current Government. If you look at what is happening with schools, they are now directly run from Whitehall by Mr Gove rather than by the local community. Governments have a tendency to talk like this but not do it, and what we are trying to do in local government is find ways to make it happen within the areas that we have control over at the moment. So, yes, you will see some similarity, but I think you will also see differences. One that strikes me-I referred to it earlier-is the difference between moving from one provider-led model, which we have now, to an alternative provider-led model, by creating worker-led co-operatives, or moving from any provider-led model to a user-led model, which is what we are trying to do, because that is the way that you tackle the dependency of people who are forced to rely on the decisions of others that don’t really include them enough.

Q19 Mark Pawsey: But the best decisions are made where local communities are engaged, and that is localism.

Cllr Brownridge: Nobody would dispute that, would they, but the fact is if you look at the Localism Act, it is, to my mind, a much more negative document because it is encouraging people to resist things that they don’t like, not promote things that they do like. I am thinking of planning particularly. I agree with Steve: what we call it seems to me to be immaterial. The point is nobody would quarrel, surely, that decisions ought to be taken by the people who suffer the consequences of those decisions as far as they possibly can, so I think we are talking about real devolution and real decision-making at local level.

Cllr Reed: It can get discredited as well. At one point Suffolk-I think they have stopped it now-were deciding no longer to fund libraries and then dumped them on the community, the idea being, "We, with professional, experienced paid librarians, can’t make these things work financially, so here you go, community, with no experience at all; you try and do it." All that is doing is dumping the problem of them not wanting to pay for that service any more on the community, because they are likely to fail if the professionals couldn’t run that service in that way themselves. There are alternative models to engage the community in taking decisions about a service, how a service is run, but we must avoid just passing down to the community our own decisions to cut funding for things.

Q20 Mark Pawsey: In my constituency, people are not having libraries dumped on them. They are taking the libraries enthusiastically and putting services in those libraries that were not previously there.

Cllr Reed: Yes, good. I don’t even know where you represent.

Mark Pawsey: I don’t like your term "dumped", but there you go.

Q21 Simon Danczuk: Starting with you, Ian, how much is your approach driven by the need to reduce spending?

Cllr Parry: Hardly any. We have managed to exceed our savings targets, if you like, without any of this being a factor, as it were. We just think it is the right thing to do for the future. We think it is an opportunity to give people and enterprises an opportunity to provide services in the most appropriate way. I think cost is a factor. We can’t deny that, because generally speaking if you are not going to do it better and cheaper, why would you do it?

Q22 Simon Danczuk: Steve, how much is your approach driven by reducing spending?

Cllr Reed: I broadly agree with the sentiments that Ian expressed there. This is not a cuts-led agenda. It is about empowering people that are being cut off from influence, but I believe as well it delivers you better value. If you are delivering services that are more responsive to need and that are doing more of what is effective and less of what is not effective, because you are allowing the people at the receiving end to participate in the commissioning decisions, then you are going to deliver better value for money.

Q23 Simon Danczuk: Okay. Barbara?

Cllr Brownridge: I think I would agree entirely with what Steve said. It seems to sum up what I think, yes.

Q24 Simon Danczuk: Barbara, in Oldham’s submission it says that, "Savings by outsourcing will plateau. Therefore there is a need to focus our drive for value and savings on reducing demand for services"1. Is your approach about saving money by leaving residents to look after things themselves?

Cllr Brownridge: No. Obviously, our approach is in the context of knowing that our budgets have been reduced and go on being reduced. Clearly, that is the starting point. That is the parameters within which any council decisions are made now. It is not a factor that is being ignored; it is a factor that has to be faced. That is perfectly true. So it comes back to what Steve said about delivering services that deliver good value for money and knowing that we can’t go on delivering everything that we do at the moment. I come back to the street cleaning example, because that seems a very straightforward one. If all the residents in the street picked up the rubbish in that street, you would not have to go and clean it once a week or once a fortnight, and that would free up the money that you could then spend on something else that the community said was something they want. What we are saying is we want a system where people put something in as well as take something out, and at the moment our view is that the council is very often a default position. If somebody has a problem, they ring the council; they don’t attempt to solve it for themselves. So what we are saying is-again this is where the co-operative bit comes in-that the public themselves co-operate by doing some of the things they could do themselves, so there will be savings.

Q25 Simon Danczuk: If they didn’t throw the rubbish in the first place, nobody would have to pick it up, whether it were council employees or members of the public.

Cllr Brownridge: Exactly so, and that would be phase 2, because they will get fed up with picking it up, you see.

Q26 Simon Danczuk: Steve, in your council’s submission you said that it is not always cheaper in the short term to use these co-operative ways. The reverse of that is that that increases costs in the short term. So where are you going to get the cash from to deliver these co-operative ways of working?

Cllr Reed: That is the question we ask ourselves all the time. There is always going to be a cost of transformation, because you have to put in capacity to allow the transformation to happen. It is one of the reasons why the Government’s decision to frontload the cuts has been so damaging really, because it has limited our ability to transform services in order to protect them for the long term and deliver them at lower cost. Nevertheless, we have identified a fund of money that we have put aside as an investment reserve to invest in services, so that we have some capacity to transform them and to build the capacity on both the provider side and the user side to operate in a different way.

Q27 Simon Danczuk: How much is that, out of curiosity?

Cllr Reed: It is about £8 million, isn’t it, in total? It is about £8 million in total. The idea is that-

Q28 Simon Danczuk: £8 million of a budget of what? A local authority budget of-

Cllr Reed: Our discretionary budget was about £310 million. It has been cut by about £95 million out of that.

Simon Danczuk: Yes, that sounds about right.

Cllr Reed: So it is a pretty significant amount of money. Part of it is intended to pay itself back over a period of time in an invest-to-save model. So you get the investment in the service on the expectation that there will be longer-term savings that are paid back to the fund.

Q29 Simon Danczuk: Then a very quick final question particularly to Barbara and Steve. Steve, you described it earlier as an innovation. How strongly connected is this co-operative council innovation? How strongly connected is it to the co-operative movement?

Cllr Reed: We have been working closely with the co-operative group and the co-operative community and people who have been exploring co-operative ways of delivering services through mutuals or models of co-production. So we are drawing on decades of experience and expertise and all of that is informing what we are doing now. The way we got to it in Lambeth is we set up a commission in May 2010. That worked over several months and engaged with 3,000 local people, a large number of local organisations, but 50 organisations nationally were involved in delivering different services through co-productive or co-operative means. From that piece of work, we put together our own road map for how we would become a co-operative council. So we are drawing on as much experience as we can from outside our community as well as within it to create a model that works for Lambeth, and Oldham have had their own commission. The other councils that are part of the network have, on the whole, set up their own commissions to look at what is going on elsewhere but fit it to their community.

Q30 Simon Danczuk: Barbara, you are next door to the birthplace of co-operation in Rochdale.

Cllr Brownridge: We certainly are. Are you declaring an interest?

Simon Danczuk: Briefly, but I don’t get a sense that this stuff is strongly connected to the co-operative movement. That is why I am asking the question. I need to be convinced. But go on, convince me, if you think it is.

Cllr Brownridge: Well, all I can say is we are engaged with the co-operative group and we run our ideas past them, so I suspect probably it will be slightly different because obviously we are doing something different. It is not like selling bags of sugar; it is a different thing. So I think we are talking more about the underlying principles of shared involvement, shared responsibility, rather than a specific model of the co-operative society.

Simon Danczuk: Traditional, yes. Fair enough.

Q31 Bill Esterson: Starting with Steve, you talked about invest to save. Do you see this saving money over the longer term?

Cllr Reed: I do, for the reasons I said when I was asked the question about is it to do with cuts. You get better value if you deliver more effective services, because you are doing more of what works and that means you can do less of what doesn’t work. So, yes, it will deliver savings.

Q32 Bill Esterson: Ian, you see the same, do you?

Cllr Parry: In most cases, I would see that there is an opportunity to reduce costs, but I think that doesn’t have to necessarily be the driver. There are other ways of doing it, if the cost is your driver.

Cllr Reed: Can I come back on that? Take the issue of youth crime. That is probably much bigger for me than it is in your two areas, because of the type of things like our youth gangs do. Heidi will be more familiar with the kind of problem we have. It is not just the cost of the youth service you are delivering. It is the cost of a young person becoming delinquent, potentially attacking or killing other young people, and stealing, having to spend time in prison, the cost of the Youth Offending Service and the opportunity cost of that young person then not getting a job and making a positive contribution. There are huge amounts of cost that can be saved if we can get a more effective model of intervention and diversion before all of those things happen.

Cllr Brownridge: I think it is important we judge value, not just in pounds, shillings and pence, but it is those social, economic and environmental benefits that services of empowerment and engagement can give, so assessing what you mean by value is very important. But yes, ultimately the bottom line must be if you are delivering better services, then you must be getting better value for money.

Q33 Bill Esterson: Coming back to the question about evaluation and measuring the success long term, are you going to try and measure? I think this point about the long-term financial gains is an incredibly important one.

Cllr Reed: We all try, and we try to work out how you do that, but when you have a number of agencies involved in delivering the service, it is very hard to set a benchmark against which you can quantify, but we are attempting to do that. We could send you more information on that, if you like, because there are people that will be more familiar with the detail of that than I am.

Bill Esterson: That would be very useful, yes.

Q34 Heidi Alexander: Can we talk a little bit about what the co-operative model means in terms of democratic accountability locally? Obviously, if you are providing services in different ways, they might start off very well; it might be all quite rosy, but things, I guess, could go wrong. I know you talked about a library service earlier; fewer people using the libraries, books not available, numbers of books being borrowed goes down. All of a sudden you have a public outcry about that. How do you deal with that and do you see a problem in terms of-

Cllr Parry: If I may start, it is an easy one. We are responsible and we are accountable, so whoever provides a service, at the end of the day the only person that gets the pain is the democratic body, the local authority. So, irrespective of who is providing it, if we have not provided it in the right way through a commissioning or co-operative or mutual way then we are responsible for that. We need to make sure that that service is provided, whoever does it, whether we are doing it or someone else. It is a simple accountability equation.

Q35 Heidi Alexander: Do you all feel the same on that?

Cllr Brownridge: I would put it more positively than that: because we are democratic leaders, we will be out in the community and that would never happen because we would know we were going down that route before you ran out of books or people were not able to access the facilities. It will be down to the individually elected members to take that accountability, and not just every four years, but every day because they will be out and about in the community and answerable. People will literally stop you in the street and say, "Hey, you are not doing that right, because we know that you are supposed to be doing it," and that is the point. We will be the actual face of the council that they know is the person responsible. Ian is right; it is our responsibility-obviously, it is-but if we are properly engaged in that community, we ought to be seeing those problems coming before they come, and you will have a mechanism in place then to discuss that and sort it out before it becomes a problem. Rather than having to solve a problem, you are going to prevent it happening. That is how I see it happening.

Cllr Reed: Can I put that slightly differently, because I think the current model of democratic accountability is more apparent than real? If you don’t like the way your housing estate is being managed or the circumstances that you are being forced to live in, if you don’t like the homecare services that affect your life every single day, then the fact that you have a vote once every four years is far too remote from the problem that you are facing to deal with it with any kind immediacy that the nature of that problem demands. If you create a model of service design, delivery and commissioning that is based around the community that are using it, that involves the ability to decommission as well as to commission, you have a much more immediate form of accountability directly to the people that are using the service that is way in addition to the ability to put an X on a piece of paper once every four years.

Q36 Heidi Alexander: I am quite interested in what Barbara was saying about the responsibility upon elected members to be in there right from the word go, understanding what is going on, recognising those early warning signs of perhaps problems, and if we had exemplary councillors all across the country then I am sure they would all be out doing that.

Cllr Brownridge: We are lucky in Oldham, obviously. We are very lucky with it.

Q37 Heidi Alexander: I think my point though is that not everyone is an exemplary councillor. There are many exemplary councillors, I should say, but not all of them are. How then can you force the body that is providing the service in a different way to respond to the concerns if you don’t have those mechanisms of control that you would have done if you were directly providing the service?

Cllr Brownridge: Well, I think the answer must be in how they commissioned, the actual terms of the commission if you have given it to somebody that is not the council. As Steve said, if you commission, you can decommission, so that has to be the ultimate sanction, that if they don’t do it, you take it away from them. So there would have to be some punishment mechanism involved, so that somebody gets into trouble if they don’t do what they are supposed to be doing.

In terms of the councillors, that is the point; that is the sea change. There is a sea change required for this, not just from the electorate but from the actual elected members, too. Part of what we are being told is there is an obligation to go on training, there is an obligation to sign up to this, and there is an obligation to do it, and we are being told in my group if we don’t do that there will be sanctions.

Cllr Reed: Can I add to that as well? I don’t think this model can be dependent on the quality of councillor that you have, otherwise it is far too fragile. That is the reason we are focusing on community-led commissioning, because it gives the community of users of any particular service the ability, through appropriate facilitated means, to commission or decommission the service, so there is an immediacy to what is going on there. Any of the services that you are running in these ways will be contracted, and within that contract there will be a minimum performance standard, which if it is missed, the council will have the power to intervene, take the service back if necessary and then retender it or recommission it elsewhere, so you have a guarantee that way. I think the role of the councillor is not to oversee the whole model, but it is to act as a kind of a networker within the community that they are representing. We are training our councillors with community organisation facilitation skills, so that they can work with communities of need in their own areas and help to bring them together and link them to resources that may be available to them to help meet that need, rather than overseeing the commissioning structure. That is done through the professionals in the organisation, so it is not dependent on councillors but councillors can play a strong role in it.

Cllr Brownridge: It is dependent in the sense that they are that conduit between the community and the services. So it is dependent in that sense, yes.

Q38 Heidi Alexander: How can you always be confident that the community that you have that is involved in the commissioning is truly representative of the community that the service is being provided for?

Cllr Reed: If you are using a community-led commissioning model and you are training people up from that community to engage with other people, you can ensure that it is a representative sample that you are talking to.

Chair: I think we should probably move on.

Cllr Reed: No, because it is important. You raised your eyebrows at that. It is critical to making it work, but why not? If you have a community of 350 homes on an estate with a problem with gangs and you know that there are 70% unemployed, 60% single parent households, a certain percentage on benefits, a certain percentage living with disabilities, you can create a sample that is representative of all those sections of the community-just in the way that sampling works for polling, for instance-and make sure that the facilitators you have trained up speak to a representative sample of all of those different groups, so you get a real sense of the whole community. It is statistically and mathematically a proven model.

Q39 Heidi Alexander: There are some services, such as a housing estate, that lend themselves relatively easily to that sort of situation. I suppose in my mind-and perhaps that was the reason for the raised eyebrows somewhat-other services are a lot more complex than that. If you took the issue of, say, youth services across the whole borough that you are providing your services in, as much as you attempt to get a good cross-section and representative cross-section of people to be involved in that commissioning process, you could easily end up with a situation where you just don’t have completely all the right people involved and the buck then comes back to you-doesn’t it?-when a group turns around and says to you-

Cllr Reed: I don’t see why you say that, given that sampling is a very well-established model. You know broadly the different subsets of people that you have using a particular service. There is no reason you can’t talk to a percentage of those representative of all of the different groupings within it that gives you within as near as damn it a sense of exactly what that community needs. With youth services, we are not looking at how do we provide a borough-wide model for that, because it doesn’t work that way. What works is understanding the needs of each individual community, each individual estate that has a problem, so we are trying to get a model that is entirely tailored, directly tailored to the needs of each estate that has a problem with violent youth crime, but also recognises that they have something to bring to solving the problem as well and tries to harness that capacity within the community. You don’t have to speak to every single individual to get a representative view of that community’s needs.

Cllr Parry: I understand the principle of a sample at random is representative of the whole mathematically, but we have to accept that this isn’t a representative sample necessarily, so therefore it is an imperfect model. We will have the coalition of the willing and the coalition of the wanting to be involved, rather than a sample that is perfectly representative of the whole. Generally speaking, it is not like that, because life isn’t like that. Life is imperfect. What we do is the best with what we have, so those people who want to be engaged, as in all walks of life, will be engaged and they will have their say. If you want to have your say you have to turn up, and that is the nature of democracy. If we are getting involved and engaged with communities, we have to accept sometimes it is an imperfect model. We have to do our best with it but understand sometimes that where we do have people who seem to be leaning in a certain way and that causes conflict or friction elsewhere, we have to be ready to perhaps engage and involve ourselves and to see why that is failing or why that is not working well. It is not ideal.

Q40 Chair: Very briefly to Steve Reed, I listened to how you see the role of your councillor there as part of that. Wouldn’t councillors think they are probably elected to provide a strategic role in service delivery and you are turning them into community workers?

Cllr Reed: There is more of a community worker role around what they will be doing, but I suppose you have to look at what is the role of a councillor now, really. Quite often, you act as a secondary complaints system. The service isn’t working; they have tried to complain; and they are not satisfied with what has happened. They happen to know that there is such a thing as a councillor-and they are already in a minority if they know that-that they can go to to try and get some further help. So we are a secondary complaints system that tries to identify gaps or flaws in the delivery pipe who intervene to try and get that problem fixed. That, plus you vote on the allocation of resources across different services and budget setting. I think, at core, that is what a councillor is now.

Under this different model that we are trying to shape, I think the experience of a councillor becomes much richer. It is more around a community worker; it is more built around community organising, trying to facilitate groups of people that have a particular need to come together and link them up with resources that may be available, either through the council or elsewhere, not just advocating for the community but trying to empower the community with the resources that are available to them to meet the needs that they have.

Chair: We do have some time constraints, so if we can just try and focus our responses and our questions.

Q41 Bob Blackman: In the evidence from Lambeth, Steve, the attitude of the staff is challenging, so what is the message to staff about what is in it for them, in a brief message?

Cllr Reed: That is particularly tough if I have to do it in brief. I think, to start, they can have an enhanced experience as an employee, because if you change the way that services are being delivered so that the frontline is empowered on both the provider and the user side then the staff have a bigger say earlier on in how the service is shaped. Very often, the staff feel that they are weighed down by multiple layers of managers-

Q42 Bob Blackman: Sorry to cut across you, but you are talking about empowering the users to determine what services are going to be provided and how they are going to be provided. Surely, the staff are then being told by the users, "No, this is the way we want it, not the way you, as staff, have shaped it." You are changing it, surely.

Cllr Reed: We are trying to equalise the power relationship between the user and the provider, not to take either side out of the equation. My view is that currently the users don’t have a big enough say. If you gave something entirely to one side but took the other side out of the equation entirely, you would have created another model that wouldn’t work very well. You have to recognise that both the provider and the user have something of value to bring to the discussion or the decision-making about how a service will be shaped and will be delivered. Models that allow more decision-making to be taken at the frontline in that way empower staff as well as users.

Q43 Bob Blackman: Some more cynical people might say this is a means of protecting staff working for the authority, rather than thrusting them out to the evil private sector. What is the stance there in Lambeth?

Cllr Reed: I think that is a false question to raise, because the purpose of this is trying to deliver more effective services, and if pushing decision-making down to the frontline, so that both the people giving and receiving the service directly at that interface have more control and you get a better outcome, then that is what matters. The point is not to protect the staff as an end in itself, although we all need to be good employers. The purpose is to deliver better outcomes for the people who are using the service.

Q44 Bob Blackman: Can I ask Barbara, which services in your council, or local authority now, would you classify as being co-operative or mutuals and what experience has been obtained as a result?

Cllr Brownridge: I think I am right in saying we haven’t actually got to that stage yet.

Bob Blackman: Right. So you are early days in that?

Cllr Brownridge: Yes. What we are doing is we are building up a set of business models at the moment, because what we want to do is sort out what it is we are trying to achieve and then work out what the best way of achieving that is. So the answer might be that we want to go to a mutual or a co-operative, or in terms of adult services, we are looking at some sort of hybrid by a joint mutual and council-run company-something of that order. But we are not really at that stage yet.

Q45 Bob Blackman: One of the other issues that I wanted to raise with you specifically was you spoke eloquently about if everyone cleans up their own street you don’t need to clean the streets, but life isn’t like that: 100% of people will not say, "Don’t worry, I will collect my own litter here," and other services will be the same thing. Is it going to be the majority rules or is it going to be significant minorities that determine this? How are you going to make those decisions? To get 100% of people to agree on something is almost impossible in this world.

Cllr Brownridge: I would entirely agree with you and I think the answer to that must be that we have to develop our Love Where You Live initiative so people want to do it because it affects them on their doorstep, but there will be an element of sanction and reward. Inevitably, there will be peer pressure that if you live in a street and you are the one person who lobs your rubbish out, your neighbours are going to start banging on your door. There will be that and there should be that, and that is part of taking the responsibility. But there will also be a duty of the council to monitor where people are breaking the law by fly-tipping or whatever, that you step in and show people that they are not going to get away with that either. Ultimately, it is going to have to be because people want to do it. If Ian is right and a lot of people just don’t care enough to get involved, then it really isn’t going to work, is it? It has to be about people taking pride in where they live and being given the opportunity to make something of that, so they can do things that make a difference in their neighbourhood.

Q46 Bob Blackman: How are you going to take your staff with you?

Cllr Brownridge: Because most of them live in Oldham, so most of those are residents as well as staff. But I think Steve is right; it is about saying to those people, "You are doing a job that is valuable. We value your contribution. We know that you know about doing this. We want to give you the power to say, ‘Why do we do it like that? It would be much better to do it like this.’" If you are giving them some autonomy and involvement in outcomes, as well as the people receiving it, then they are going to be committed. They are going to have job satisfaction, surely. Rather than just going home and saying, "Oh, I’ve had another day at the office," they are going to say, "It was great, because we did this today, and we achieved this." So it is about giving the opportunities for people to make a difference for themselves, I think, whether they are an employee or a ratepayer or a councillor.

Q47 Bob Blackman: Ian, what is the experience in your part of the world?

Cllr Parry: We have a pilot that is due to end next year and there is a national evaluation as well being done on it, which is around social work practice. It is basically lifting out a district of social work for young people in care and running it like a practice, so they get a chunk of money and off you go. There is light touch kind of supervision and management around it. They run it co-operatively. They take out all the sort of hierarchy and supervision that is normally there. The experience of that has been quite good in many respects. There have been some concerns about it, but generally speaking quite good. Turnover of staff very often in social work can be a problem. That has been arrested in that particular isolated example. They have innovated a contact onsite kind of initiative. A number of other initiatives that they have developed, they have innovated themselves. I think that is part of the value of mutuality, if you like, or co-operative status, that they have some autonomy to understand youth requirements better, not to have to go through three layers of bureaucracy to make some changes but to be nimble and lean and flexible to be able to adapt well.

So that is there, but in local government we have to accept that if there was a large pool of entrepreneurs in there, social or otherwise, they would be out there sipping pink gins on a yacht somewhere, I guess, because they would have done it already. But what they are doing is they took a career in public service for a reason, in that they wanted to work in public service. They did not necessarily want to go out and be entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, if we can encourage, and we do encourage-and there are a number of areas we are working on at the moment, where we could take out key activities and place them as a social enterprise or whatever. I don’t care if you list it on the New York Stock Exchange as long as it is a right provided proper service and it is sustainable. If they can do that, that is a good thing, but we also have to be mindful that we are putting resource and support and giving breaks to people. I am sitting out here maybe as a private sector provider and saying, "Excuse me, but that is public money. Can I have some of that, please, because that doesn’t seem like a level playing field?" So we have to be mindful of the taxpayer diligence around this as well, and are we doing the right thing for the taxpayer.

We want to do all those things; we want to encourage people to do it. We want people outside in the private, voluntary, co-operative sectors to help us to dismantle what was the old model of local government because we can’t afford it any more, and it necessarily isn’t providing services in the right way for the future, so there are those things that we need to do. The existing and old model of local government probably is not fit for purpose, or isn’t fit for purpose, and we need to do something about it. This is one route that, as a mix of strategic choices in the future, I think is part of it.

Q48 Bob Blackman: Steve, what percentage of your council services would you classify now as being in the co-operative or mutual side?

Cllr Reed: We are currently trying to move them towards those models. I won’t repeat the list I gave earlier of the services we already had operating like that that were part of our inspiration, and they are not all within the council. Some of them were services being delivered that way in other parts of the public sector or within the community that we learnt from. We are currently looking with some housing estates to move them to co-operative models of management and/or ownership potentially. We are currently setting up a youth services trust borough-wide, into which we will move a large proportion of our youth services resources, funding, facilities and staff. Anyone that lives in Lambeth is entitled to join that trust. It is called the Young Lambeth Co-operative. They will elect a representative body. That representative body will elect a board that will oversee a community-led commissioning model that will determine which services are available on each particular estate.

Q49 Bob Blackman: That is a couple of areas, but would you say this is the model for all of Lambeth’s services or just for some specific ones?

Cllr Reed: No, as far as possible the default position will be that we want to move all of our services to this model. I am sure that as we move along there will be reasons why particular ones can’t go straightaway or need to go more slowly, but it is not one rigid legal model that we are trying to apply to all services. It is the principle of co-operation, of equalising power between the provider and the user, and in any particular service that plays out differently in terms of the model that you end up with.

Q50 Mark Pawsey: Councillor Parry, you referred earlier to the social work practice. I take it that was Evolve YP?

Cllr Parry: Yes, that is right.

Mark Pawsey: Can you just tell us a little bit about how that came into being and what the challenges were in getting it set up?

Cllr Parry: It was an opportunity through, I think, the previous landlords here to be involved in a pilot scheme, and I think there were several set up across the country. What we did was take a district, which is Newcastle-under-Lyme, and give a group of employees, social workers involved in children in residential care, the opportunity to operate that as a practice, like a GP practice in a sense, and for them to take complete ownership of all of that. So we ring-fenced it, gave them the budget, which was equal to the budget for an in-house service, a comparable in-house service, but they have, if you like, the discretion on how that is utilised.

Q51 Mark Pawsey: Right. So they were given a sort of contract?

Cllr Parry: Not in that sense. They were given a kind of ring-fenced lump of money, "Get on with it".

Q52 Mark Pawsey: For how long?

Cllr Parry: It is a three-year pilot.

Q53 Mark Pawsey: What happens at the end of three years? Do they have to tender competitively? How does that work?

Cllr Parry: Well, I think because it is a pilot the legislation means that it has to be wound up, because the law, as it exists, does not permit a social work practice in that model to exist. There was, I think, under that pilot, some form of capacity to allow that to happen.

Q54 Mark Pawsey: So there was no risk to the employees then? It strikes me that one of the concerns is that if employees move from the security of employment by the local council into one of these mutuals they may not get the contract at the end of the first period.

Cllr Parry: I totally agree. At the end of the day, they have a certain amount of employment protection in that, because if the whole thing goes upside down they can come back in, as it were, because it is a pilot. The idea of the pilot was, "Could this work? Could this model work? How would it work? Let’s test it. Let’s have a look at some of the problems." If you were going to do it for real, that is where you would have to expose it to failure, if you like, to really test it. But there also has to be some governance and surety around that. You are dealing with young people that are very vulnerable.

Q55 Mark Pawsey: I wanted to come on to that. You told us that it worked, because the staff turnover had gone down, and that the staff now were bringing forward various initiatives, but what is the view of the service users? Are they getting a better service under this new framework?

Cllr Parry: That is exactly right. Service users do praise it; they are getting a better service.

Q56 Mark Pawsey: Do you do a survey of service users? Was it benchmarked before? How do you know it is better?

Cllr Parry: Well, through consultation with service users. All young children in our care are regularly consulted on the quality of care that they receive.

Q57 Mark Pawsey: Was there a qualitative standard before, and what is the qualitative standard now?

Cllr Parry: We have not put numerical values on it, if that is what you are searching for, because it is all anecdotal.

Q58 Mark Pawsey: Okay. It is all anecdotal?

Cllr Parry: Well, anecdotal is the wrong phrase.

Mark Pawsey: All right. What then?

Cllr Parry: It is a survey. All young people in care are consulted on a regular basis about the service that they receive, the accommodation that they receive, the pocket money allowance they receive-all of that. On a regular basis, inspection is taking place-all that sort of thing. So we know from consulting with those young people. They would tell us-I can tell you they are vocal-if they were not enjoying a better service, but what they do enjoy is a service that has more continuity. They are not seeing different social workers every so often, and the social workers themselves, because they are working in a team, can support each other through holidays and things. People get to know about caseloads-all that sort of stuff.

Q59 Mark Pawsey: As a broader question, do you think there are some services delivered by local authorities that lend themselves better to this model than others?

Cllr Parry: Yes.

Q60 Mark Pawsey: Is the one you have just described the best sector for it to work in and are there some services where it wouldn’t possibly work?

Cllr Parry: I think it is one of the more challenging sectors where it can work, because it is one of high-risk sectors. So to do this I think what you have to do is take it off into a corner and in a controlled way test it and not just say, "Well, let us suck it and see. Let’s put it out there and wave goodbye to those people and see what happens." We can’t do that. This is a very high-risk area for us. It is, as I say, vulnerable young people. But there are areas where you can probably do this in a much easier way. We have looked at things like outdoor education centres, which is an obvious one. Just cut them out, get a team who are very interested and arguably they would be up for it, and you can put that into such an enterprise.

Q61 Mark Pawsey: Do the other witnesses have views about which kind of services this model lends itself to best?

Cllr Brownridge: Well, the short answer is in principle I think any service could be run like that, but we are starting from the position of deciding what it is we are trying to do with each service. It may be when you look at it across the board you are not going to hive your trades and standards department off, for example, which you could do on the face of it quite easily, but you might think, "Well, there are other things that could be done under that umbrella that are done by somebody else at the moment. Therefore, we need to redesign that service altogether, and once we have decided what it is delivering, we then decide what the best model for delivering that thing is." I think, like Steve said, it won’t be one solution for every circumstance. We could end up with a combination of different mutuals, co-operatives and in-house providers, but you start from what is it you are trying to deliver, and you work from there to decide how you will then deliver that.

Cllr Reed: No, I agree with that. I do not see why you can’t apply it to everything. If the point is to give the people using the service more control over decisions that affect their lives, you could probably do that in everything.

Q62 Mark Pawsey: Every function of local government is up for grabs?

Cllr Reed: Not up for grabs. We are trying to transform every function of local government, so it is more effective.

Q63 Chair: How do you do planning, very quickly?

Cllr Reed: I don’t know.

Chair: Ian Parry’s public meeting there where everybody on the road doesn’t want a development at the end of the road, but the planning committee needs to approve it because of the wider community good. How do you resolve those?

Cllr Brownridge: The answer is you have a good local development framework, and that is the point that for all of these you need something objective against which you are measuring. You could well have a situation always, and planning is a fantastic example, where you have real community engagement and 50% don’t want it and 50% do. So whoever the decision-making body is then has to arbitrate, and the way they arbitrate is weighing up material factors that should be as objective as possible. In the case of planning, your proper local development framework has been prepared with community input but also with an acknowledgement of strategic overview and requirements, such as housing land, for example, which lots of local residents don’t want but we know we have to provide. So you have a democratic input, but ultimately whoever the decision-maker is then has to weigh those various inputs and make a decision, and subsequent decisions are then taken against that framework. So that is the answer in planning.

Chair: I think Steve Reed is going to agree with that.

Q64 Bob Blackman: There is a whole range of things that the Government is doing. We have talked about the Localism Act; we have the open public service agenda; we have the mutuals taskforce. Barbara, you are saying in your evidence you need more support; you want something else. What else do you need to make this happen?

Cllr Brownridge: I don’t think it is more support; it is just slightly different support. I think our involvement with the Mutuals Commission is that their advice is not targeted towards local authorities doing this. It is much more targeted to people who want to set up a mutual, so what we are saying is we would like that advice to be more targeted towards what we are trying to achieve, so that we can have that help and assistance. At the moment, we are sort of feeling we are having to go out and find a lot of things out for ourselves, where if somebody central could gather together that practice-

Q65 Bob Blackman: Do you think it should be the Government providing this or should it be the Local Government Association? Who should do that?

Cllr Brownridge: I think it will depend on different elements. There are statutory elements like procurement rules and so forth that perhaps the Government needs to make a decision on how those procurement rules should apply. There will be other things. We have this network of co-operative councils and we are sharing good practice, so a lot of it we are going to learn from Lambeth because they are further ahead than us, so we are not going to make their mistakes subsequently, obviously. So really in the spirit of co-operation what we are looking at is everybody who has any vested interest is contributing from their knowledge point, so Government would have a role to play and local government would.

Q66 Bob Blackman: So presumably your network has lobbied the Government. Steve, you are clearly involved with this. Have you lobbied the Government?

Cllr Reed: No. That is the idea. We are not looking for support from the Government to do this. We are getting on doing it, as I hope you have heard, but there are some barriers. Procurement is one, as Barbara just said.

Q67 Bob Blackman: When you say procurement is a barrier, local authorities for donkey’s years have procured services. They have to do so within the existing law. The law hasn’t changed. What is the barrier there?

Cllr Reed: I think particularly smaller organisations find it very difficult to navigate the quite complex routes through the procurement that we have created, and it not just nationally, it is locally as well. So we are looking to ourselves as well as to Government, and what we will do is identify the barriers and then make proposals back to Government of what those can be. Another one is VAT. At 3.6 on the submission that you have from Lambeth, one of the problems we identified here is that VAT can be claimed back by councils on their normal activities, but that doesn’t necessarily apply to spin-outs or smaller mutuals that may need to charge 20% VAT to people purchasing their services, so you have a built-in disincentive. There are things like that that we are finding through the network, as different councils explore different ways of delivering different services. Where it is a nationally created barrier, we will feed that back to Government to see if there is something that can be done to resolve it.

Q68 Bob Blackman: Ian, have you had any experience of the community right to challenge? Has this come forth in your part of the country? What has been the reaction?

Cllr Parry: None. We haven’t had any of that.

Bob Blackman: You haven’t had any?

Cllr Parry: We haven’t had experience of any of that, and to be honest, if I was to give any feedback to Government on this I would say, "Lower your expectations."

Cllr Brownridge: Can I just say I think the phrasing of "the right to challenge" would cause us some concerns? The right to ask constructive questions and test it out, yes, but "challenge" seems slightly aggressive to me. To my mind, it gives a slightly negative impression.

Q69 Bob Blackman: You may have a position where-I am not saying this happens in the well-intentioned area of Oldham-a local authority takes a decision to close half of its libraries and then the community says, "Well, we don’t like that," "Well, tough, because you get a vote every four years and we have decided that is what we are going to do."

Cllr Brownridge: Yes, under the co-operative model, it wouldn’t have happened like that. They would already have been involved in that decision and they would have challenged it through the involvement of the local people in reaching those decisions.

Q70 Bob Blackman: That is why I think there is a status of the issue of challenge.

Cllr Brownridge: Well, as I say, I don’t object to the principle; I am not objecting to the principle. It is just I think the word "challenge" is slightly-

Q71 Bob Blackman: Has there been any experience in your part of the world of that?

Cllr Brownridge: Not yet, no.

Q72 Bob Blackman: So in these difficult decisions you have had to take of reducing expenditure, the community haven’t said, "Well, we don’t like what you are doing here. We want you to do something else."

Cllr Brownridge: No, not yet, I don’t think.

Q73 Bob Blackman: So everyone is very happy in Oldham?

Cllr Brownridge: I wouldn’t say they are very happy, but I think they are very disengaged, and that is what we are trying to fix.

Q74 Bob Blackman: Steve, any experience of community right to challenge?

Cllr Reed: No.

Q75 Bob Blackman: It is kind of like what has happened in your housing estate, where people have come along and said, "We don’t like what you are doing here. It is about time you did it in a different way," isn’t it?

Cllr Reed: But we were working with them to try and identify the different way that it could be done, so they didn’t need to challenge us. They wanted us to work with them and we did, and I think that is the better and more mature relationship between a local authority and the people that it is serving. We haven’t yet had community rights to challenge, but one of the problems I envisage with it is there are still things we need to provide-like primary school places, for instance-where there is a growing under-supply, under-provision of that, and we have a responsibility to provide it. With the capital funding reductions, the only way we can do that is by selling off existing assets; the council earns in order to get the receipt and invest it in the new school. Under the community right to challenge, that can create a moratorium on sale of a considerable period of time that could mean that we then can’t provide the primary school places that are required.

Q76 Bob Blackman: Finally from me, apart from money, what is the one thing the Government could do to assist you in promoting your type of ethos? Ian, starting with you.

Cllr Parry: I think there are probably some technical things around Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (TUPE) and things like that that might assist. I think generally speaking it is having an understanding that there are some complexities around this and it is not just about fine words and optimism and that in taking services out into co-operative or mutual type ventures takes time, it takes some thought and it is not something that is going to happen overnight, but it is on everyone’s agenda because it is the only game in town in many respects. We have to reshape these services and engaging with communities and finding different models, and finding that there are organisations out there that are well-equipped to do it. If you can just improve the capability and capacity of those organisations, they are well-equipped to do it and can possibly offer a better deal than we can. They can offer also some additionality, some flexibility, some ability to innovate that we sometimes can’t, because we are local government and we are bit more constrained. So I wouldn’t ask for anything else, to be honest. I think we just need to get on with it.

Bob Blackman: Okay. Steve?

Cllr Reed: Yes, two. One is at the local level we are finding all of our local partners are collaborating and co-operating together very well on this agenda, so we have the police engaged, the further education college, the council itself, voluntary and community sector. The bits that are really difficult to get engaged is national Government Departments, where they have either assets or are providing services in the locality. It would be great if national Government would join in with this as well.

The other point my colleague has just whispered in my ear is pensions. That is not going to be unique to this situation-is it?-but one of the things that most worries council employees, if they are going to be moved into a mutual, is what is going to happen to their pension, and I understand entirely that fear.

Bob Blackman: Okay. Barbara?

Cllr Brownridge: I don’t think I can think of anything, I am afraid.

Q77 Bob Blackman: Okay, fine. So you have no demands on Government?

Cllr Brownridge: Well, I am sure I have, but not in respect of this, no.

Chair: Thank you all three very much for coming and sharing your experiences and your aspirations with us today. It has been very interesting. Thank you all very much.

[1] See Ev 83

Prepared 6th December 2012