Coming to a local authority near you

I watched Panorama ‘The Cuts – Can you fight back?’ recently and it really made me think. The journalists traveled all around the UK from Fife to Northampton, Wirral to London, and proved that council taxpayers are not ready to sit back and watch much-loved public services disappear without a fight.

In Fife,  people are taking to the streets to “save their music” and in Glasgow they just lost the fight to save their swimming pool.In Northamptonshire, the “Conservative Road Show” has been traveling around the communities asking people where they want the cuts to be. The interesting bit came when the journalist asked people what they thought of this new approach:

“It’s a con, it’s like a murderer asking if you would like to strangled or smothered”… “Who am I to say where the cuts should be? I am only one person, I know what is important to me and my family but it feels rather selfish”… “I think it’s brilliant they are listening to our views”

I found this fascinating, I think designers often assume that a huge part of the answer lies in listening to people and asking about their opinions. The truth is this is only part of the solution.

The program highlighted the brilliant grassroots movement that happened in the libraries of Hoylake. People in the community would not accept the decision to close their local library: “Without our library this will become a ghost town”. The ladies behind the initiative some advice for people who find themselves trying to fight back on a decision their council has made:

  • Do not give up
  • Make a nuisance of yourself every day of the week
  • Take names so you can hatch a rescue plan

The journalist visited North Glasgow where people are trying to save their community centre.

”There is nothing in this town except the community if they take it away we will have nothing.”

The council did offer space at a near by community centre but the residents admit most of them can’t afford the bus fair for themselves and their children.

When the councilors run things they sometimes don’t work and don’t make money, when people in the community run them they can make it work. People are taking to the streets to protest at the cuts and some have decided to just run the services for themselves. Does this mean there is going to be a revolution in the way councils do things?

Joanna Killian, the Chief Executive of Brentwood Borough, Essex ( who earns £230K a year, that is £50,000 a year more than the Prime Minister ) has big ideas to enable families to buy their care direct from the provider. This means councils are having to completely re-design the way they offer services. Joanna described it as “helping people to help themselves…it is called reablement”  (this chimes with Snook’s work with Research in Practice for Adults) the show filmed Peter, aged 80, and his wife, aged  87 talking about the new way of delivering support.

”We don’t want to go into care and don’t want to be dependent on our families”

Panorama have created a ‘Fight Back Map‘ so you can see who is fighting back and where in the UK. So maybe it’s not about what your council can do for you but what you can do for your council…

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