When it comes to tackling long-term challenges and planning appropriately for them, just how long-term can local government really be?

Some councils operate on whole council four year terms, while others do thirds, usually with just one year of no election activity in a four year period. This means, to ensure continuity, any incumbent in local government only has a finite time to ensure they can make a real difference to their voters. This is not a huge problem where councils have a significant political majority and the political landscape is likely to remain the same year after year. However, in areas prone to change, this can be far more problematic.

The political process can sometimes be slow or is certainly perceived to be by the general public. This means change needs to be addressed early in a term – and with vigour. Apparent lack of speed of political change at a local level can been seen in the current political and social climate as a frustration. Perhaps more so than usual recently, seeing how quickly mammoth decisions have been made and change implemented at the highest levels of government.

On a nationwide scale, some big decisions have been taken by a comparatively small group of people that affect the entire population. We’ve also seen the strengths and weaknesses of devolved power among the home nations implementing their own governance. But change needs to occur, as circumstances evolve and necessity dictates.

Make political change happen

To make real, positive change take place, you need both vision and skill – vision to see how change can come about and be beneficial, and skill to bring these changes into practice. Many factors affect how quickly change can be implemented. In some cases there are budgets to clear, finances to be sorted out and allocated, and opponents to be convinced.

Local government has the potential to be really beneficial to communities, but it also needs the backing and unity of the council in a milieu that lends itself to confrontation. Many local councils are made up of a cross-party members and independents, who must carry out their work on behalf of their constituents. Not everyone will agree on common ground and some decisions will be taken by a majority, not a unified consensus.

A positive force

A decision taken early in the electoral term may only be reaching fruition towards the end of that period. If it’s a long-term construction project, for example, or a large infrastructure undertaking, then the project stands a good chance of continuing to completion. If it’s legislation or policy, such as planning approvals or financial allocations, it can be changed if the balance of power changes. Due process will have to take place, but policy is never irreversible – that much we have learned from the government’s management of the ongoing pandemic.

The most important element of change is to ensure that it is positively received, is a force for good and leads to improvements in the quality of life and the environment. Constituents can clearly see how their surroundings are affected by local government – and they can always vote for change themselves at the next election.

At C.Co, we support organisations with solutions for all aspects of change management, enabling successful improvement and transformation across the public sector. If you are interested in finding out more, please get in touch with us today.