Local Government Group
Local Government and International Partnerships.
A new kind of partnership is slowly growing at local government level. It is one with potential benefits for local citizens and council staff in different parts of the world. These new international partnerships are between councils not just within Europe but also in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They promote mutual support and understanding between their citizens and officers. Their ultimate aims are: to improve efficiency, to encourage collaboration on global issues such as poverty and environmental degradation, to strengthen local democracy and to raise global awareness.
One example of this new approach is to be found in Warwickshire.
Warwick District, Warwickshire County and Leamington Town Councils are all linked with Bo City Council in Sierra Leone as part of a 26 year relationship (One World Link), which was originally started by members of the local communities in Bo and Warwick1. It was supported from the outset by Warwick District Council (WDC). Bo City Council came on board in 2004 when Sierra Leone had its first truly democratic local elections since the 1970s.
Over the last 5 years, since the end of the Civil War in Sierra Leone, local council involvement has slowly grown as the benefits to both partners have become clearer. There is now a great deal of excitement building up as the environmental health officer from Warwick District, waste management and finance officers from Warwickshire County and an ex-president of the Royal Town Planning Institute prepare to leave for Bo in November. Bo City is sending its Chief Administrator to Warwick in October so that he can meet his counterparts and exchange ideas with them. These visits will set the stage for a long term plan of cooperation. On top of this, Leamington Spa is now officially twinned with Bo at council level.
So what started this innovative approach to strengthening local government? And what are the expected outcomes?
It all began in 1981, when a Community Link (One World Link – OWL) was formed between Warwick and Bo Districts. It was set up to try and foster understanding of life in an African country and of the very different culture and environment in which our African friends operate. The emphasis was always on individual relationships and practical matters, rather than fund raising and aid. The initiative was supported and assisted by District Councillors, but there was no formal civic link initiated at that stage. The informal relationship has continued ever since. However, until 2004 the local council in Bo was composed of central government appointees and they were not very interested in the link.
The war in Sierra Leone in the 1990’s was tragic not only because of the appalling human cost but also because of the mindless destruction of the country’s fragile infrastructure. Throughout the war the friendship link survived but without much practical exchange. So in 2001, after the ceasefire, the Mayor of Leamington, decided to find out if the partnership could be restarted and whether the local councils could play a stronger role. He was also a District Councillor and his visit reopened interest and activities in both councils.
With support from the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), the Deputy Town Clerk of Bo Town Council (as it was called in 2001) visited Warwick District for a programme of familiarisation and awareness raising. He met officers from the District and Town and County
1 For the purpose of this article Warwick refers not just to Warwick town but to Warwick District which includes Warwick, Leamington and Kenilworth towns as well as rural villages. Warwickshire is made up of 5 Districts which include Warwick District.