Focus: Policy and Politics - Charities lobby their local councillors

Groups see 4 May as an opportunity to push their own agenda, writes Nathalie Thomas.

With the local elections approaching on 4 May, several voluntary organisations are seizing the opportunity to push their agendas at a local level.

A coalition of 42 children's charities is hoping to take advantage of the elections to influence how national policies are rolled out by different local authorities.

"If you look at national housing policies, they are hugely important, but it's also important to look at what happens on the ground," says Lisa Nandy, policy adviser at the Children's Society.

"The way that different local authorities choose to implement national housing policies can have an enormous effect. Some children who end up in one local authority can be sleeping in a completely different place from children in another."

The coalition has produced its own manifesto in time for 4 May. Towards an Inclusive and Child Friendly London has been sent to all councillors and prospective councillors in the capital to highlight issues such as childhood obesity, bullying, poverty and exclusion from education.

Many of the charities involved also campaign at a national level, but they view the elections as an extra opportunity to encourage local councils - which often hold the purse strings - to effect change on the ground.

According to Dr Ute Navidi, director of London Play and another coalition member, the elections are particularly important for smaller campaign organisations that deal with more community-based issues.

Navidi is hoping that the manifesto will prompt local councillors to examine some of the pertinent issues facing children and young people in their areas - many of which can be resolved independently from Parliament.

Local issues are also more likely to rouse emotion among community members, Navidi points out. Residents who take up local issues will frequently pursue things to the bitter end and even get in contact with their constituency MPs, she says. As a result, local lobbying can feed into and give extra weight to national campaigns.

"MPs are keen to take up local issues at a national level," she adds.

Living Streets is another organisation reaping the benefits of local lobbying. Ruling Lib Dem councillors in Newcastle are living up to their party's reputation for 'pavement politics' by adopting the organisation's 10-point manifesto.

Councillors are taking the charity's policies - such as halving the backlog of pavement repairs within three years - to the city's streets. The organisation's agenda will also appear in Lib Dem campaign material in the run-up to the Newcastle City Council elections.

KEY POINTS

- A coalition of 42 children's charities hopes to use the local elections to influence national policies - The coalition has sent out its own manifesto to councillors

- Issues highlighted include poverty and bullying.

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