Divided by a common language

NOVEMBER 19, 2010 12:11 AM| no comments

Coming back this autumn from the International City and County Managers Association Conference in San Jose was a good opportunity to look at the challenges facing community leaders on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

WebsEdge/Government produced a series of programmes for both the ICMA and Britain’s LGA earlier in the summer. We interviewed a wide variety of politicians and community leaders and visited towns and cities throughout the two countries. There were clear similarities of approach to the problems caused by the global economic slowdown but there also some significant differences in emphasis.

 

In America it’s fair to say the harsh economic climate has been a reality longer as far as local government is concerned. Cities get a chunk of their funding from states and that has been cut back in recent years. So there’s a feeling that to some extent they have weathered the storm. They have made the necessary cuts to spending and are in better shape for the upturn when it comes. Whilst in England we’ve just had the Government’s Spending Review, which heralds substantial cutbacks to council grants. And whilst plans have been drawn up there is a distinct feeling of unease in town halls throughout the country.

 

The big worry in the United States is unemployment. At 9.5 % of the population it has remained stubbornly high. That has a profound effect on city government – both from a financial and a community cohesion point of view. So the focus now is on creating jobs.

 

As with many other facets of the relationship between the two countries there is more that unites us than divides us! There is a big emphasis in both the UK and US on professional management in town halls. If we can recruit, train and motivate the best minds into local service we’ll do the best we can for our citizens.

 

There’s also a focus on community. It goes under different names, ‘total place’ ‘big society’ and many others. But the sense is the same. If we coordinate the efforts of the entire public and voluntary sectors we can eliminate waste and provide better and more efficient services. What started out as a response to financial hardship has become a clarion call for better services and community engagement. And you never know, it may just work!

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