Self-serving political, media and financial elites have failed this country, leaving a majority of people too disillusioned to bother voting and a minority with so little regard for society they are prepared to riot and loot their own communities.
In Lambeth, where I am an elected member, the council is seeking to engage local residents by bringing the co-operative movement to the town hall, something that has worked well on the high street.
The Co-operative Group has built the greenest supermarket chain in the country, worker-owned mutual John Lewis continues to grow and building societies thrive whilst local credit unions and housing co-ops offer the poorest communities support. These financially and socially successful co-operative institutions work for the people they serve by empowering and enriching their customers, workers and communities rather than unsustainably exploiting them.
In local government we can restore trust, empower citizens and create more efficient, responsive public services by handing over control in a similar way.
Many poorer citizens, those most reliant on public services, have been locked into dependency by professionals taking the decisions over large parts of their lives. Over time – and over generations – this saps away self-reliance and self-confidence, and caps aspiration.
Residents will have no expectation or means of escaping this cycle of dependency unless we change the way services are run, giving them back control over their own lives. If we can do that, we can help them identify and work towards achieving higher aspirations for themselves, their household and their community.
This is not only good for the individual and the community, but there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that where people are resourced to design and deliver the services they receive, it results in better outcomes and financial savings for the taxpayer.
Lambeth’s co-operative council aims to rebalance the power relationship between the user and provider so that it’s more equal, co-producing public services with the people who use them or live in the communities affected.
The proper resourcing of this model distinguishes it from the “big society“, which relies too heavily on voluntarism and the third sector at a time when they are already under pressure.
The way different services work will vary, but the objective of finding new ways to hand more power, choice and control to local people is a constant. The Lambeth Living Well Collaborative, for example, brings together mental health (NHS and social care) service users, carers, practitioners and commissioners at monthly breakfast meetings. It has has been a big success in terms of better results, integration and reduced costs because it assumes that citizens are the experts on their own lives, and that they are part of the answer not passive recipients of a service.
We have now launched the Lambeth Youth Co-operative, are consulting on co-operative libraries and community hubs and will extend this approach across the council’s portfolio of services.
Scandal and failure have led people to distrust our institutions as self-serving and dictatorial, while a dependency culture has robbed some of the poorest of their ambition. Let’s start a renewal of our public life by sharing council responsibility with the public.
Cllr Ed Davie.
Originally published in the Guardian.