Local authorities find it difficult to empower people and communities to be more self-reliant and less dependent on services
In recent years local government in Wales has faced significant pressures, dealing with crisis after crisis, but with less resource now available they need communities and people to do more for themselves
Local authorities have a positive track record of adapting well in responding to challenges. Whether its cuts in budget as a result of austerity or finding new ways of keeping services open during the pandemic, local authorities have been devising, and implementing a range of efficiency measures to reduce the cost of services, but also finding innovative ways of working.
However, because of the current cost-of-living crisis, local authorities are now facing their biggest challenge. While Welsh Government are planning to increase council budgets for 2023-24, the level of money being made available falls short of what is required to maintain services. The Welsh Local Government Association estimate that local authorities will have to manage £1.2 billion of unfunded cost pressures between April 2023 and March 2025.
As a result, local authorities are showing an increasing interest in encouraging and growing community resilience; equipping people to do more for themselves and be less reliant on the state. Community and self-resilience have begun to appear as a priority in more local authority corporate plans and strategy documents, as means of equipping people to be able to adapt and directly manage the problems they face.
While it is clear local authorities have a strong track record in some key areas that can help create more self-reliant individuals and resilient communities, we found that local authorities are not using resources to effectively encourage community resilience. In the current economic climate, this is unsurprising, with an uncertain future, switching resources from often over stretched services is no easy thing. But unless local authorities encourage people to do more for themselves and find their own solutions, services are likely to be unsustainable.
Positively, as a result of COVID-19, there is a huge amount of goodwill and commitment within communities that local authorities can build on and use. To do this, local authorities need to ensure they have the right arrangements and systems in place to strengthen community resilience and support people to be more self-reliant. To help and support this new way of working, we recommend that local authorities use our report to self-evaluate current engagement, management, performance, and practice to identify where improvement is needed. As a result of completing our evaluation tool, local authorities will be able to draft and implement an action plan to prioritise where changes are required.
The pandemic showed communities can play a more active role and become less dependent on public services but sustaining this requires local authorities to change how they work. I recognise how difficult this is in the current climate but also believe that change is necessary. Our report makes the case for change and provides recommendations to help authorities make the transition.