Over a 6-month period in early 2018, 10 contestants will tackle five tough real life challenges in councils across the country, spanning front line, financial, creative and leadership challenges. The third challenge took place in Wiltshire Council.
Half way through the 2018 series and the competition is heating up, with Team Ambition in a 2-0 lead...
In Wiltshire Council's mellow stone HQ in Trowbridge, Leader Baroness Scott welcomed the contestants and painted them a compelling picture of the county as a place to live, supported by the council and its three priorities - growing the economy, building strong communities and protecting the vulnerable.
At the heart of it all is community engagement, delivered primarily through 18 district Area Boards which were created in 2009. Steve Milton, Wiltshire CC's Head of Communities, described the council's ground breaking approach which would form the basis of the contestants' challenge over the next 24 hours.
With many services and their budgets already devolved to the Area Boards, local residents in Wiltshire are already making key decisions that affect them and the services they receive. The next question for the council - what to devolve next in a county where, according to last year's LGA Corporate Peer Challenge of the council, "Communities are in the DNA of the organisation".
The mission for Teams Ambition and Vision was to propose which further services for Wiltshire Council to devolve to the Area Boards, to be presented in a two-page business case and creative presentation designed to make the judges sit up and take notice.
LGA head judge Stephen Cooper made a rapid reshuffle between the teams and sent them on their way, first to appoint two captains - Amanda Askham of Cambridgeshire CC for Vision and Bexley LBC's Ellen Care for Ambition – and then to delegate responsibility for the packed programme of fact finding activities. Two from each team headed off to Springfield Community Campus and the rest to a panel discussion with two Community Managers. They also interviewed John Thomson, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communications, Communities, Leisure and Libraries, as well as taking part in a speed networking session.
At the Springfield Community Campus, the contestants resisted the temptation to scale the climbing wall and dive into the pool. Instead they quizzed the two managers who run the centre about the services it provides – both to local residents and as a flexible base for council and police officers.
Meanwhile at the speed networking event, the teams worked on a ratio of 1:7, with contestants given five minutes each to glean as much information as possible from key stakeholders and other influential figures from the 18 areas.
Dinner that evening at a local Italian restaurant was an opportunity to chat with Steve Milton as well as Corporate Director Dr Carlton Brand and Chairman of the Council, Cllr Allison Bucknell. But with time short and the outcome at stake, both teams worked into the early hours ahead of presenting their cases.
The next day, the aspiring next generation of local government leaders had a chance to test their final ideas on Steve Milton as well as ask residents and visitors in Trowbridge town centre, before returning to County Hall.
The judging panel of Baroness Scott, Cllr John Thomson, Carlton Brand, Steve Milton and the LGA's Claire Holloway assembled in the council chamber and pored over the two very different business cases, which included multiple pages of appendices in addition to the two sides of A4 each.
Team Vision were the first to take to the stage with their inventively-tiled 'Devolved Neighbourhood Action (DNA)' - a community-based model of support for people with mental health issues or who are feeling the effects of loneliness or isolation, With the help of some clever adaptions of Google Street View as a backdrop, their compelling business case summed up their message that it is all about people.
While the judges' questions to Team Vision were challenging, they also showed considerable interest in the ideas and how to make them work.
Captain Ellen Care led Team Ambition's business proposal, entitled 'Community Assemblies – what matters to everyone?'
With a greater emphasis on changing structures and governance, Ambition focussed on increasing the pool of engaged local people, replacing the current Area Boards with more inclusive local Assemblies and connecting more widely with the network of existing groups.
The team handled the judges' questions with skill, demonstrating an impressive understanding of the issues which they had acquired in less than 24 hours.
The judging panel spent the best part of an hour to consider their verdict, before Baroness Scott returned to offer some very constructive feedback for both teams and then the decision – a win for Vision. Put simply, the focus on people had won over the focus on structures, but an impressive effort from both teams, and the prospect of a DNA pilot coming soon.
So with the score now standing at 2:1 to Ambition, next stop is Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire for the fourth round of this year's LG Challenge.
Leadership and Localism Adviser at the LGA
If you are interested in being involved in the Local Government Challenge please email [email protected]