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8 July 2014updated 28 Jun 2021 4:44am

Ed Miliband needs more than a simple swing from Whitehall to Town Hall

Labour still has much to do to combat the vampire squid of austerity thinking that threatens to suck the lifeblood out of UK politics.

By Matthew Pike

With his ringing endorsement of the Local Government Innovation Taskforce this week, Ed Miliband has gone some way to answering those like Jon Cruddas who want to see a bolder, more visionary Labour party in the run-up to the next election. Miliband has issued his strongest rebuke yet to the centralising tendencies that have marked both New Labour and the coalition government. But there is much more to do to persuade a disaffected electorate that Labour has a vision that provides a real grip on the challenges ahead.

What should give any progressive leader confidence is a sense that history is on the move. Not just here in the UK but in countries around the world we see the same signs of a new approach to key social challenges – outlined in my IPPR report, Mass Collaboration, released today – that is characterised by:

 – Honesty: that none of us have all the answers to the complex social problems that now face us – we must work together to pioneer new solutions.

 – Confidence: that we already have, between us, the resources and freedoms required for deep reform – the challenge is one of building more effective working relationships.

 – A sense that a top-down, mass-production model of change has run its course, and a new model of bottom-up, mass collaboration has come of age.

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Whether we examine the highly collaborative forms of the new digital economy, the more than 500 major “collective impact” programmes across whole cities or states in the US (each offering a decade-long commitment from hundreds of organisations of all sectors to work together) or the efforts across Africa to redesign market systems to better support the “bottom billion” there are the same clues of a fundamental change in approach. They offer the best riposte yet to the vampire squid of austerity thinking that threatens to suck the lifeblood out of UK politics.   

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Seen in this light, the measures endorsed by Miliband this week could, in the end, come to be seen as far more than the simple swing of a pendulum from Whitehall to town hall. They might also provide the vital, enabling context for a still bolder approach that works to enlist the productive capacities of all sectors and people from all walks of life in the pursuit of common goals; working to redesign how whole local support systems can work for people in a far more effective and cost effective way.  

What is exciting is the mounting evidence that such a model of mass collaboration can both achieve deep improvements both in the wellbeing of citizens and reduce the economic burdens on the state. Take the remarkable Strive Together programme in the US which has produced 10 per cent gains and more across entire school populations. Then there is the service design work in the UK, promoted by Locality, which suggests the potential for saving £16bn by building neighbourhood teams of supporters that work to address people’s needs as quickly and well as possible – preventing far more costly demands upon the system in the future. 

A new “coalition of the willing” offers the UK a way to work itself out of the fiscal crisis in which it is still deeply mired, but this will require central government to take some bold steps. Simplistic and top-down Payment by Results contracts should be scrapped and replaced with a new model of Payment for Success that each year cuts the lowest performing services and reinvests in the best. Public purchasing practices need a radical overhaul to prevent the creation of ever more powerful private monopolies.

We need investment in vital shared institutions like Sure Start centres and community anchor organisations. The ability to pool five-year budgets around specific issues and groups of people will be vital in making current budgets stretch further, as will the innovation of new forms of investment within not for profit structures that enable local organisations to invest in the massive system change efforts that are required to re-wire pubic services and welfare for a post-austerity Britain. 

All that is required is a new generation of political leaders with sufficient self-belief to lead by standing back.

Matthew Pike is the founder of and one of the UK’s leading social entrepreneurs