Interview: Steve Reed, leader of Lambeth Council

He tells David Ainsworth about plans for the London authority to become 'the UK's first cooperative council'

Steve Reed, the leader of Lambeth Council in London, has declared that the authority will be the country's first "cooperative council", and that he wants to see local people taking over council services wherever possible.

This decision by the leader of a council regarded as a bastion of public sector values is a combination of idealism and realism prompted by impending local government cuts, says Reed. "If we wanted to avoid cutting services, or offering worse services, we needed to find a different way," he says. "We felt we could do it using community cooperatives."

The council will offer local people the resources, support and official backing they need to carry out local projects, Reed says. He cites the example of Community Freshview, a scheme set up by the council: it provides support to local people to clean and redecorate a public area themselves, rather than having it done by council employees.

"It's cheap, it's quick and it gives local people a sense of empowerment," says Reed. "They improve an area themselves, and they have a communal interest in maintaining it, yet all it costs the council is £300 for some spades and flowers."

The idea can work in health, housing and education, he says, through the community ownership of housing stock, community groups with health problems working together to pool their personal budget allocation and increase their buying power, or communities acting as the management of local schools.

"People want to run services in their areas," he says. "People like being part of communities. What they want is the backing of the council."

A full strategy is being drawn up. The Citizen's Commission, a group of local people appointed by the authority, will publish a white paper in September, after the council elections of May. Despite the imminence of the election, Reed says this is not the flash-in-the-pan decision of a council leader with a fight on his hands. "We've been doing this for years," he says. "Many of these projects have been running since 2006. But if we are elected, it will give us a clear mandate to continue with it."

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