Not so long ago, Torbay was seen as an insular local authority – inward thinking and not prepared to work with others, but an event last week demonstrated how far we have come in the past few years.
Torbay Council was invited to share best practice identified by government inspectors at the Local Government Association’s annual conference and exhibition in Harrogate last week.
We held a session on the tremendous improvements we have made in our children’s services.
It was a fantastic opportunity to shine a spotlight on the Bay – its beauty, its challenges, and our success.
It was a great way to celebrate our achievements after making measurable differences to the lives of children, young people, and their families and getting a grip on our finances.
I know that we helped inspire ideas on how best to implement initiatives which transform people’s lives.
We were approached by colleagues from councils as close as Devon and Somerset and as distant as Cumbria and York about how they could emulate Torbay’s success in transforming children’s services.
Councillor Cordelia Law, our Cabinet member for children’s services, is doing a wonderful job of flying the flag for Torbay.
As well as presenting at the conference on our improvement journey, she is also an LGA member peer mentor.
The LGA is the national voice of local government and works to support, promote and improve councils.
As a member peer mentor, Cordelia offers her skills and experience to councillors in other local authorities.
She is currently supporting a new children’s services Cabinet member in Hull.
Learning from others and sharing best practice was a huge part of the LGA conference.
I talked to other new leaders in other councils about our common experiences.
For me, success comes from taking control, giving a clear political direction, and working with key partners and communities to achieve shared aspirations.
Control at Woking Council has recently changed hands and they have similar challenges to us in Torbay. I held a very useful conversation with colleagues from there about my experience of building partnerships and driving change for the good of the community.
I also had the opportunity with eight other local government leaders to meet a local Government minister Kemi Badenoch. I was able to point out the threats that we are currently seeing – like our building programmes across local government where construction inflation is seeing project costs increase by eye-watering amounts.
As her portfolio also includes equalities, I raised the fact that if you are discriminated against under the Equality Act and are not able to resolve matters through mediation, you may have to take court action at your own expense.
There was an interesting programme of talks with a few senior politicians sharing their thoughts on topical themes, such as Michael Gove and Sir Ed Davey.
We heard from Marvin Reece, who is the elected mayor for Bristol. It was interesting to know how he has a similar approach to Torbay’s partnership administration in relation to activating communities, but we need confidence around long-term funding so that we can plan as a local authority.
One big theme which ran like a golden thread through the conference was how we can tackle the cost of living crisis.
The conclusion was it’s going to be difficult, and we need to work together as local councils to share best practice as the crisis deepens.
We need to brace ourselves for what is set to be a difficult autumn and winter.
In preparation for this, and in recognition of how tough people are finding the escalating costs right now, Torbay Council has put together a new webpage.
It’s filled with information for residents who are struggling to pay for their energy, water, food or other essential items. See www.torbay.gov.uk/benefits/cost-of-living
Help is out there, so please don’t struggle alone. Find out where you can get some extra support.
Written by Steve Darling, leader of Torbay Council
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