13 Years of leaving Customers Better Equipped

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News & Updates

This month, Alpine is celebrating 11 years of of supporting the public sector and leaving its customers better equipped. Over 11 weeks, in a series of thought leadership articles we are shining a spotlight on key workforce challenges. Here Councillor Frank Hont, portfolio holder for Social inclusion, Fairness and Equalities at Liverpool City Council, discusses the leadership challenges of ensuring equality for all against the backdrop of austerity.

Ensuring equality and diversity throws up massive issues for councils as it cuts across all services. In Liverpool City Council, all cabinet members, directors and services are responsible for embedding fairness and equalities. Yet social inclusion is so dispersed in its effects that it requires clear leadership.

In contrast to my previous campaigning roles, my current position requires me to be more of ‘shaper’ and ‘influencer.’ It has been an eye opener to be on ‘the inside’ of local politics, as people imagine that local councillors have more influence on waves of national change than is actually true.

As a local representative of the people one can only work within certain parametres, such as devising strategies for the council that will lead to longer term transformation. Now is a really opportune moment to do that.

However, it can be hard to co-ordinate with other local authorities nationally. For example on an issue such as the proposed changes to local welfare provision, councils should be speaking as one voice. But the sector representative bodies can be slow to respond.

Our main focus now is addressing the massive impact of austerity on our city, in particular through welfare reform and changes to employment practices. Part of my role includes anti-poverty work.

This is a priority issue because of a combination of a number of factors creating a perfect storm for the city. These include: the impact of welfare reform, creating further hardship for citizens; grant cuts reducing the council’s ability to respond – so it is constantly in a crisis role; and changes in employment practices, such as zero contract hours. These contracts has been around for a while, but have become normal practice – leaving many people exposed to financial crises.

For example, we are currently responding to the government’s proposed withdrawal of local welfare provision by using evidence of real case studies. We’ve found those affected are not solely the long-term unemployed, but also hard working families experiencing massive personal crises with no where to turn, with no savings, and no family members they can rely on.

These stories challenge the stereotypes of the media and government that those in receipt of benefits are simply ‘scroungers’. We’ve seen an increase in a lot of working families now using food banks. That is an absolute disgrace for the seventh most prosperous nation in the world!

In Liverpool we have taken a twin-track approach to the enormous changes underway. The council is determined to regenerate the city so that it is business-friendly and will attract inward investment nationally and internationally. But we are also resolute in remaining fair and inclusive. We are determined that we won’t leave people behind so they become more isolated.

Of course we are constrained by limited resources, and our reach to wider communities has diminished. As the cuts continue this will only get worse.

Ultimately, partnership is the only way to work now. For example, we saved 11 libraries by working closely with the third sector. Our workforce and leaders have to display new skills and develop new collaborations, and to listen and think differently. You can’t carry on doing things that don’t work. For some this can be uncomfortable. But partnerships are built on relationships of trust, and trust relies on a common vision.

Looking forward, I am hopeful that Liverpool will continue to develop its world pride of place, with growth that every citizen can share. It will reach out and grow in a global market economy – but it must do so without leaving people behind.

Councillor Hont is a former trade union activist who has worked at a senior level in local government, he was an independent member of the government’s Commission on Integration and Cohesion, for which he was awarded a MBE. Prior to winning his seat in the Childwall Ward in May 2014, he was an independent commissioner on the council’s independent Come Together Fairness Commission (http://liverpool.gov.uk/media/955277/come-together.pdf)


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