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17th October 2019

Solace President: Entrust local government with powers and funding to deliver cross-system solutions for the future

Martin Swales, Solace UK President, has urged the Government to trust councils with powers and funding as local government is “uniquely placed in shaping places where the most adventurous trails are being blazed.”

He also said local government has a key role to play in maintaining cohesive communities and delivering economic improvements post-Brexit.

In his speech at Solace Summit in Birmingham on Wednesday, Mr Swales pointed to “the unparalleled power of local government to shape and make places – including their economies”.

He said: “Local government must be trusted and supported through real devolution at whatever scale of local agglomeration works best for the area it serves.”

While Mr Swales said “politics and opinions have become somewhat polarised and we are understandably consumed with Brexit,” he added: “Local government is being increasingly recognised for our exemplary leadership and given the powers and funding, we can be the source of many of the solutions to today’s most pressing issues.”

Brexit “marks a major transition in UK history”, said Mr Swales who added: “And with all such transitions there are risks and new opportunities as the country seeks to navigate this extremely complex issue.

“But one thing is certain: it’s more important than ever that national and local government work together to maintain strong and cohesive communities.”

Mr Swales said he is “delighted” to be Solace President “at such a pivotal and defining period, not just for the sector, but the UK as a whole”.

Mr Swales, who is also Chief Executive of South Tyneside MBC, used his speech to underline the importance of collaborative working, not just across local government but with central government, and other partners, too.

“To address the many challenges we face we cannot stand alone, and we all know that means working seamlessly within the broader system with a strong sense of common purpose.

I have a great belief in the power of our sector and my confidence in the power of collaborative relationships is not because I see life through rose-tinted glasses. I understand only too well what we’ve been through, having served as Chief Executive for a decade in one of the hardest hit Metropolitan Authorities.

“And inevitably during this time the operating temperature between local and central government has on occasion risen. We cannot turn back the dial but can, and must, seize the opportunity to go forward doing our utmost to shape and influence policy for the next decade. And to that end, the focus of my first 10 months in role has been about creating the right platform, conditions and relationships for this to happen.”

Mr Swales and other Solace Policy Leads are now engaged in regular, constructive discussions with senior colleagues across Whitehall, including Treasury.

“Working in this way should never stop us acknowledging and addressing points of difference – and it is vitally important we represent the sector in a determined and passionate way,” he said.  “To have the difficult conversations we must be in the room in the first place, and there is now a real desire to hear our highly informed perspective of life at the ‘sharp end’.”

An example of that came with some positive news for the sector in last month’s Spending Round.

With each of the main political parties pledging to invest in public services Mr Swales said Solace, working with our partners in the sector and Civil Servants, is now turning its attention to securing a long-term, cross-departmental financial settlement.