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Reflecting on Solace Summit 2023: Valuable Lessons on Inclusion and Transformation

Reflecting on Solace Summit 2023: Valuable Lessons on Inclusion and Transformation
Reflecting on Solace Summit 2023: Valuable Lessons on Inclusion and Transformation
This year, the Solace Summit held in Birmingham brought together Chief Executives and their staff from local councils nationwide. Alongside partner organisations such as Zencity and others and members of ICMA Europe, we discussed current and upcoming challenges in UK public service and celebrated successes, achievements, and lessons learned.
Over 500 delegates shared their work and listened to each other in what had really been a conference set around conversation, asking questions, and getting answers. 

As Zencity is expanding its footprint in the UK, now working with the London Metropolitan Police, the Department of Levelling Up, and numerous councils, it was certainly insightful for us to learn firsthand what is top of mind to those keeping the UK running.

Below are three main themes we identified at the summit:

A relational council equals a digital council -  

digital council pictures

The concept of a Relational Council was discussed and spoke to councils that emphasise their relationship with residents by understanding that fostering a strong human connection leads to higher service adoption and better service delivery. But a relational council is also a digital one. Digitalising public services in the UK has become imperative in recent years, transforming how citizens access and interact with government services. This digital shift has been catalysed by the need for greater efficiency and cost savings, particularly in the context of budget cuts affecting local councils. 

While these budget constraints have pressured councils to do more with less, the importance of improving the user experience cannot be overstated. Streamlined, user-friendly digital platforms not only make services more accessible and efficient for citizens but also reduce administrative burdens and costs for local authorities. 
Additionally, the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly clear in enhancing service delivery. AI can automate routine tasks, offer personalised services, and provide data-driven insights to improve decision-making and service performance over time. 

This aspiration of constantly optimising services goes hand in hand with measuring service performance and obtaining public input on its efficacy. Through ongoing assessment and analysis of service usage data, councils can identify areas for improvement, optimise resources, and adapt to changing citizen needs. 

By prioritising user experience, incorporating AI, and measuring service performance, local councils can strike a balance between fiscal responsibility and delivering high-quality, citizen-centric services that enhance the overall well-being of their communities and turn them into more relational councils than ever before.

Shifting perceptions from local minorities to a global majority - 

Councils continue to realise the importance of reflecting and addressing the diversity of their communities, both in their service provision and communication and in their leadership and workforce. 

The concept of a global majority, which comprises individuals from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds, plays a pivotal role in this context. Local councils are increasingly recognising that DEI is not just about compliance but also about creating a representative and inclusive environment where the perspectives and needs of the global majority are acknowledged and addressed. This focus on DEI seeks to eliminate systemic disparities, foster a sense of belonging, and ensure that all citizens, regardless of their background, have equitable access to public services and opportunities. By actively promoting DEI, local councils in the UK aim to create more inclusive, empathetic, and responsive institutions that serve the best interests of their diverse constituencies.

In addition, local councils in the UK increasingly recognise the significance of having a diverse workforce and leadership that mirrors the rich tapestry of the communities they serve. Building a team that represents the diversity of the local population is instrumental in fostering trust, empathy, and cultural competence. It allows councils to understand better and address the unique needs and challenges different communities face, resulting in more effective and culturally responsive public services. Moreover, diverse leadership teams can bring various perspectives and innovative solutions to the table, enhancing decision-making processes and creating an environment where all voices are heard and valued. This commitment to diverse leadership and workforce reflects a commitment to equity and strengthens the bonds between local councils and the communities they proudly represent.

Cost of living is on the rise, and local councils have a stake in the game -

the cost of living crisis

In a recent report, Zencity covered the UK's cost of living crisis discourse and provided some tips for local councils to handle and communicate about the situation. It is no wonder that the topic also took centre stage at the summit. 

The cost of living challenge UK residents face has become increasingly pressing in recent years. In a session led by the team from St. Helens Borough Council (who have put in place an impressive cost-of-living support program), delegates discussed how soaring prices of essential goods and services, along with stagnant wages, have placed a considerable burden on individuals and families across the country. Housing costs, in particular, have risen substantially, making it difficult for many to afford suitable accommodation. 

Local councils play a crucial role in addressing this issue. They can focus on initiatives to increase the availability of affordable housing, such as subsidising rent or providing incentives for property developers to create affordable units. Additionally, local councils can work on improving public transportation options to reduce the cost of commuting and invest in programs that provide financial support, job training, and educational opportunities for low-income residents. 

The cost of living challenge extends to food security and childcare costs. Rising food prices, particularly in urban areas, have made it difficult for some families to put nutritious meals on the table. Local councils can address this by supporting community initiatives like food banks and promoting programs that provide affordable, fresh produce to underserved neighbourhoods. 

Moreover, childcare expenses can be a significant financial burden, often discouraging parents from returning to work or pursuing educational opportunities. Local councils can alleviate this strain by expanding access to affordable and high-quality childcare services, offering subsidies to low-income families, and working with local providers to ensure safe and reliable childcare options. 

By taking proactive steps and engaging residents and organisations in identifying the challenges and finding solutions, councils can alleviate their communities' cost of living challenges and create a more equitable and thriving society.


solace summit closing party

In summary, Solace Summit 2023 provided a wealth of knowledge, focusing on the critical themes of service delivery, diversity, equity, and inclusion and adapting to economic and geo-political challenges already in effect across the UK. Throughout the conference, it was inspiring to see the emphasis Councils and their leaders put on the voices of their communities. It is evident that decisions are not being made in a vacuum but with the community's diverse input and interests at heart.

Learn more about how Zencity supports local councils in their work.

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