Daniel Goodwin

Social change and the body corporate

In the last week I have celebrated my 50th post and 2000th read of this blog, which has provided me with disproportionate satisfaction, particularly given that I also heard of a well-known thinker on health policy matters who reckons to have 1,200 readers per post. However this was always a bit of an experiment and I have been delighted by the impact it has had, however small. I therefore thought that this weekend’s post should be a round-up of where this has got to so far, together with some analysis of the present and thoughts for the future.

My blog has seen a number of concerns and ideas flow through the various posts, key themes have been the nature and culture of places, the determination of common good and the impact of democracy and services at the local level. I have been struck by the balance between leadership, service management and community development and the position of local government in particular in relation to the state, market and civil society (See Prof. John Benington in a range of his writings – this link provides a good summary).

This is of particular importance at present because local government is clearly affected by the tensions between these forces, with the pressure on for smaller government and a bigger role for society and the market. Whilst it seems to have been quite a while since there was much talk of Big Society and at least according to this Local Government Chronicle blog, localism is increasingly being seen as  a practical tool, rather than an underlying principle, from  a central government which is eager to see progress on its policies on growth, social cohesion and public service reform.

I was reflecting on this tension this afternoon for another piece of writing and it struck me that part of the reason is the position of local government in our society. For if the structure of society can be described by the varying relationships between state, market and civil society, then uniquely local government has characteristics of all three in a way that differs from all other parts of the public sector. It is an agent of the state, being a locus of democracy, point of taxation, provider of public service delivery and regulatory enforcer.  It engages like no other with the market and is a provider, commissioner and facilitator, with a range of transactional relationships and income that is necessary for its survival. And it has a key role to play in community engagement, functioning as a social entrepreneur, community organiser and focus for civil society links and networks.

Accordingly, whilst for other parts of the public sector, the wider societal change is happening around the outside of their (contracting) boundaries, these changes are happening in the very hearts and minds of local democracy. I think that this is a fascinating starting point for further thought and I will be researching others’ insights on this subject and developing this in future writing. Right now my key observation is that it is little wonder that local government is feeling like it’s on the front-line of social change, because it is!


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