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Well-being should be central to local government, says report

New report highlights best practice of pioneering councils and suggests opportunities in Big Society.

A week on from the news that David Cameron will ask the Office of National Statistics to start measuring the UK’s wellbeing, a new report says that local authorities should take a proactive role in improving the wellbeing of residents.

The report, The Role of Local Government in Promoting Wellbeing, is being published by Local Government Improvement and Development (LGID) and the National Mental Health Development Unit (NMHDU), and is written by nef (the new economics foundation).

It argues that focusing on wellbeing can help local government respond to significant reductions in its finances, by preventing long-term problems and ensuring that positive outcomes are achieved efficiently. This will make the most of the unprecedented opportunity councils are experiencing to reshape their role. The report highlights numerous examples of councils who are doing pioneering work in this area, from all parts of the UK.

The report recommends practical measures across five areas of local authority activity:

1. Those responsible for strategic leadership in a councilshould develop an overarching vision and framework for wellbeing.

Example: Liverpool made 2010 the ‘Year of Health and Wellbeing’, supported by the council, the primary care trust, local businesses, and third sector groups.

2. Commissioning and service design should have wellbeing at their heart.

Example: Lancashire Partnership used the Mental Wellbeing Impact Assessment toolkit to assess how action plans across seven local priority themes would influence wellbeing.

3. Empower communities by building on the assets of local people, involving them to create the Big Society.

Example: Haringey Council have set up an online social networking site to strengthen local connections. Members of the site have collaborated to improve their local area, such as clearing ice from public roads.

4. Focus on staff to improve their own wellbeing and that of local people, and use procurement and recruitment to strengthen the local economy.

Example: Nottingham City Council created 30 apprenticeships to help young people learn garden skills and gain NVQs. This tackles the wellbeing risks of youth unemployment and improves population wellbeing associated with green spaces.

5. Measure wellbeing outcomes systematically.

Example: Councils and PCTs in the North West jointly funded a survey of mental wellbeing of the local population, to identify groups with higher and local wellbeing, and better target interventions to reduce inequalities.

Paul Burstow MP, Minister of State for Care Services, Department of Health, said: “Putting local communities and their councils in the driving seat of public health is critical to the Coalition Government's plans. A big difference can be made if the right action is taken early in people's lives. The right support at the right time can help people become more resilient and realise their potential.

This is good for the individual and good for society too. This report maps out how a smarter, more local approach can deliver results. 

Our upcoming Mental Health Strategy and the Public Health White Paper will set out how community capacity can be built up and the role of local leadership in driving change.”

Cllr David Rogers, Chairman of the Local Government Association's Community Wellbeing Board, said: “As a local councillor myself, I fully understand the massive scale of the challenge we are facing in cuts to expenditure and services. There are tough times ahead.

“More than ever it's vital we look at how what we do as councils affects the health and happiness of the people we represent, and how we can make the most of our resources and work with other organisations to better build strong and caring communities. Promoting wellbeing is everyone's business and it's good to see first hand the great work town halls across the country are already doing, but we can always do more. 

"This report speaks to the heart of what local government is all about - improving people's lives both now and for the long term."

The report includes examples of how councils are already undertaking activities which promote each of the Five Ways to Well-being, across all main service areas. The Big Society agenda provides an important opportunity for local government to take further action on wellbeing and increase the democratic involvement of all local people whatever their capacities.

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