Headlines: March 22nd, 2007



Reforming local government is less about new powers or structures and much more about behaviours and attitudes. This is a key conclusion on the reform agenda from Sir Michael Lyons report: ‘Place-shaping: a shared ambition for the future of local government’.

The report identifies place-shaping as capturing the central role and purpose of local Government. It is about the creative use of powers and influence to promote the general wellbeing of a community and its citizens. It is also about responding to local need and managing the pressures and expectations of public services more effectively. There is a clear need for local government to step up to the place-shaping challenge and develop its style, skills and behaviours in order to make the role a reality.

Place-shaping requires local government to be more consistent in raising its sights beyond the immediate delivery of services, the short term political cycle and the timetables of funding and performance management. Councils need to focus on developing a vision for their areas and communities that is owned by those communities and by local businesses.

The vision should have a long term horizon to give a sense of where a place should be in five, ten, 20 and even 30 years’ time. There needs to be an awareness of long-term trends locally as well as in the world beyond geographic boundaries, including the changing economy and workforce, demographics and diversity and environmental challenges.

From the vision a strategic outlook needs to be developed to give a sense of how the local area can be prepared and well placed to respond to these challenges.

Long-term planning can be challenging to achieve in the face of short-term demands but some local authorities have realised that it is only by shaping a strong vision for the long-term future that they can create a truly cohesive community. A longer term view, which emphasises common interests, future economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and a harmonious, secure community is more likely to overcome divisions and secure support for some of the more difficult, immediate decisions a council has to take.