I hope that after 4 years most Lib Dems know that I am the Lib Dem Leader at the LGA. Not so many will be aware that I am also the portfolio holder for European & International Affairs. I was volunteered for the job when we needed to mainstream our E & I work and make it more relevant to the wider local government family and I happily decided at accept the position. Interestingly the portfolio holder for the Welsh LGA, Chris Holley, is also a Lib Dem. Perhaps it’s just something about practising what we preach!

Much of the work inevitably involves European activity. European legislation is so important to us as 50% of the Westminster legislation that affects councils originates in Brussels. Increasingly however with the political work in CoR and Congress now being dealt with comprehensively both within the LGA and by our local politicians in Brussels I have been able to look at the international work in more detail.

As a result of pressure from the LGA the DFID Select Committee chaired by Malcolm Bruce (another example of practising what we preach?) has suggested to the Government that Councils should be used a lot more in Internal Aid activity.

We offer a win/win/win situation.

  • A win for the Country in need. We can supply officers and councillors with current and relevant experience to provide real help. It was local government staff, fire-fighters, for example that were first into Haiti.

  • A win for the Government. We can do it far more cost effectively than the usual agencies of private consultancies and NGOs. Often we will put in at least some of the resources ourselves.

  • A win for the local council. We can get two benefits. The horizons of our staff and members will eb tested and expanded leading to more innovation and new ideas. We can develop a knowledge of custom and practice in those countries which can guide our work with the diaspora communities in our communities.

We are currently coordinating local government aid to Zimbabwe with more than 30 Councils offering to help. We are looking at long-term support to Haiti with again 30 Councils (but different ones) offering to help there. We are about to conduct the first peer review of another LGA (South Africa) with the World Bank looking to provide more support through us to other LGAs so that they have competent and strategic development partners. I have just assisted with a review of how local government works on a Pan Africa basis and will be hosting a conference in Nigeria in March. Margaret Eaton, the Association’s chair has been leading a review of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum which is our major route for working with others to provide local government aid.

Some people ask, “Why should we help when times are hard?” Most members of the public (and surely every Lib Dem?) reply when they see the devastation of Harare or in a different way Haiti – we have no choice – we must be there.

So what is your council doing in both European and International activity? Could you do more to help provide a win/win/win situation in your area?

Cllr Richard Kemp is Liverpool City Councillor for Church and
Leader of the Local Government Association Liberal Democrat Group

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