Our campaigning work around local governance in the post-COVID world

Posted on 22/10/2020 by Ed Hammond.

CfGS has been successful in securing funding to support a major campaign on local governance in the post-COVID world, and what steps could be taken to shift governance approaches to make the public sector, at a local level, more responsive to citizens. This work is running between now and September 2021.

Our work will challenge traditional assumptions about power and how it is held to account at a local level, and seek to articulate a better model for local governance in a post-COVID world.

The pandemic crisis is causing citizens, civic society and institutions to ask fundamental questions about how decisions are made and where resources are allocated. There is no question that the pandemic’s impact will influence how we plan and act for years to come. Conversations about the future, which up until recently felt quite abstract have been thrown into sharp and immediate relief. These include questions about the relationship between local and central governance, the citizen and the state, people and technology.

We believe we urgently need to have ways to talk about these questions, and to find answers, if the world after the pandemic is to meet citizens’ radically-changing needs and expectations.

Why we are doing this

The pandemic has had, and will continue to have, profound impacts on the relationship between local people, their democratic representatives and the public institutions who design and provide services on their behalf. The recent Black Lives Matter protests give voice to the view that public institutions are part of a structurally unequal system which embeds discrimination and unfairness. In the future, local people will demand a new relationship between them and professional bodies.

Councils are facing unprecedented financial challenges. There is a risk that the decisions they are forced to made to recover their financial position will significantly weaken the relationship with local people – making councils more remote from the communities they serve. A White Paper on devolution is, we know, coming – although its contents and scope remain unclear. What is clear though is that any structural changes in the sector would be both resource intensive, as well as risking a further disconnect between local people and new local authorities.

In the context of all of these challenges, there is a growing sense that incremental reform is no longer tenable – that wholesale, revolutionary transformation is needed to embed the position of local councils in their areas. These changes must point the way to a stronger relationship between local people and the councillors and councils who serve them. Local authority governance, and local authority scrutiny, we believe are critically important mechanisms to achieve this objective.

We believe this is a period when practical action to influence the future of local governance will be possible. As policymakers and local people grapple with the challenges we set out above, more is in play – and more at stake – than ever before. The timescale for this work is designed to engage with what is expected to be an urgent debate over the future shape of local government and governance, which will be informed by the preparation of financial plans for 2021/22 and the publication of the Devolution White Paper.

To coincide with the launch of this work, we are this week publishing some short blogs which engage with these issues in more depth. As our work begins, we are keen to discuss with others (particularly those involved in campaigning at a very local level) some of the ways that local governance needs to change in future to be more responsive to local needs. 


Our funder, JRSST Charitable Trust, is a grant-giving registered charity. CfGS applied for and was granted funding of £33,500 for this work, not including VAT. More information on JRSST-CT can be found at https://www.jrrt.org.uk/what-we-do/jrsst-ct/ 


About the Author: Ed Hammond

Ed leads CfGS's work on devolution, transformation and on support to councils and other public bodies on governance and accountability.