Public Sector Focus

14.11.19

How the South Tyneside Council leader kept his community centres open

South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm spoke with Emily Rodgers for the new PSE podcast about how he found a solution for his residents in the face of budget cuts.

Iain Malcolm has been a member of South Tyneside council since 1988 and leader for the past ten years. Over that time, he has seen the budgets cut “systematically year on year” whilst also noticing an increase in demand to council services.

Speaking on the PSE podcast back in October, Malcolm said that in some cases his staff are doing “30% more with 30% less”.

South Tyneside Council is the third worst hit authority in England in terms of budget cuts from central government but has still been able to deliver award winning services for its residents and become co-operative council of the year.

Iain credits his residents as the driving force behind his successes and describes them as “close knit community” who were ready to step up to the plate.

Instead of closing the 19 community centres and libraries in the area, they asked the management committee to take ownership in running the community centre and transfer the asset to them for day to day running.

By giving the control of children’s centres, community centres and libraries to the residents, they were able to enjoy a better tailored service that works specifically for them.

They get support from the corporate centre, but they are able to decide how best to run them within the community.

Another added bonus is as they fall outside of the council remit, they can apply for funding from elsewhere, for example one local community centre got over half a million pounds from the Lottery for a centre expansion.

Volunteers, supported by corporate centres are running the libraries and managing to run activities and coffee shops along side it, something the council would not have been able to do.

Council leader, Iain Malcolm said:

“I think sometimes councils can be reluctant at looking at the Asset Transfer Programme and what I would say is no one size fits all, it works for us because we’ve got a close-knit community who value local community centres and want them to work.

“That may not be the case in every area but it was in ours, and I will say that no council should be concerned about community engagement, we represent the residents and it’s about empowering them to take ownership of some aspects of community life more so than running their local community.”

Date of interview: Oct 22 2019

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