As 2023 draws to a close, we wanted to share with you some highlights of Research for Action’s work. It has not been a great year for democracy – for example in local audit, which is one of the areas we work in, the UK Government has chosen not to deliver promised new legislation. But at the same time we are part of new and growing networks of people determined to do things differently. It has been a year of great collaboration with others who care about local democracy, be it project partners in Sheffield, Glasgow or Europe-wide, or the UK’s Democracy Network: a group of over 1400 organisations who engage in different aspects of democratic change and campaigning. These connections with academic researchers, journalists, democracy sector organisations and local and national politicians make it feel like Research for Action is a lot more than three people! Our projects have taken us to Leeds, London, Glasgow, Sheffield, Bristol and even Amsterdam. Here’s what we have done this year …
Audit and Accountability
In August we published ‘Local Audit: Why Public Interest needs to count’. We argued that audit should be treated as an exercise conducted in the public interest and for the public good. Following on from our previous research, this report analyses local audit from an explicitly political standpoint, demanding not only long-overdue audit reforms but a redefinition of how audit is conceived and practised. The report contained six principles that we believe should underpin public interest in the context of audit and accountability in local government, as well as policy recommendations. Our launch event brought together experts from Transparency International, the Audit Reform Lab and on-the-ground citizen auditors.
Our submission to the the UK Parliament’s Levelling-Up (LUHC) Committee inquiry into financial auditing was quoted in the Committee’s final report, which contains stark words on the untenable situation in local government financial accountability. In November, with some of our allies and partners we published an open letter calling on the current and future UK Governments to prioritise audit reform. We’ve developed our media work, with news coverage in national and local publications, and presented at the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF) conference.
We are working with WhatDoTheyKnow to use their new Projects tool. We have been inspired by the Council Climate Action Scorecards project which uses this tool and has created an amazing database of local authorities’ work on climate breakdown. This is part of our research on council scrutiny arrangements which will be published in the Spring. A great clear overview of the issues around local government accountability is given by Ben Worthy in his September piece here.
Our Citizen Auditor Network entered a second year. Through online group meetings, 1-2-1s and our email list, we help join the dots of the often isolated and isolating work of scrutinising local authorities. If you would like to find out more about taking part, please email email@example.com
Our involvement in the European Municipalism Network culminated in the publication of a range of outputs to learn from diverse organising experiences, from Zagreb to Glasgow. Based on skillshare sessions coordinated by other network members (also captured in these podcasts), we wrote a series of blog posts. We also dipped our toes into film-making, scripting two short films about the strategies, tactics and challenges of municipalist groups across Europe. The series is called Municipalist Chronicles and the films are called Strategies and Tactics and With or Without The City Hall?.
In July we were part of the gathering ‘Feminise Politics Now!’ – two days of talks and workshops in London that drew together feminist learnings from the European municipalist movement with those in the UK wanting to implement them. This included both councillors and grassroots organisers, which felt like a new and uplifting collaboration. In 2024, we will keep working on municipalism as we are co-organising a Fearless Cities conference in Sheffield.
In January, we continued our co-learning conversations with grassroots campaigners in Sheffield and Glasgow. Together with project partners SANE (Glasgow) and Ruth Hubbard from It’s Our City! (Sheffield), we asked campaigners about their demands and strategies, relationship to the council, shared understandings and how they could better work together. After the first phase of the project in April, we launched 4 beautiful posters designed by Reece Thompson.
We are continuing to work with the project partners and currently writing up the findings from the co-learning conversations. They show how campaigners struggle to access local democracy in an environment of funding cuts and governance failures; yet they embody a democratic pluralism in action that has a lot to give to local governance. We will publish a report early next year, so watch this space!
Finally, please do keep in touch and share this newsletter with others who may be interested.
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With warm wishes for the Christmas holiday period and for the new year of 2024!
Gloria, Fanny and Megan