The asset-based council

There is growing realisation that councils cannot do many of the things that we have been used to them doing. As their budgets are cut, and cut again, many council managers spend a great deal of their time deciding what they cannot do. But in an age of austerity, what do we think that councils can do? We’ve had the ‘co-operative council’. Perhaps it’s time for the asset-based council.

An asset-based council has no customers, only citizens. It has no providers, only partners. It is responsive to need, but looks always for capability and potential. It is confident in the things it can do and the difference its people’s skills and expertise can make, but it has the humility to recognise what it cannot do: fix people or communities.

An asset based council:

  1. Has a living map of the area’s resources and works with the whole range of assets: state and private money, social action, community groups and charities, services, private sector and enterprise, buildings and land.
  2. Sees its role as enabler and facilitator: equal partnership is the default working mode and all of its staff and those of its partners are trained in asset-based thinking.
  3. Passes ‘the connection test’: challenging all service interventions to build people’s resilience and social connections and investing in models which can demonstrate this added value.
  4. Uses the Social Value Act principles by default in all contracting and grant making.
  5. Builds and sustains social and community enterprise as part of ensuring that it has a wide range of asset-based support models.
  6. Builds mutualism and shared ownership, including through use of the Localism Act, and increases year on year the proportion of the public service workforce who have current and recent lived experience of using those services.
  7. Has a community development worker (e.g. a Local Area Coordinator) for each identifiable neighbourhood and invests in connecting people through models such as Circles of Support, Shared Lives and Homeshare.
  8. Aims to increase the proportion of its resources invested in prevention and early intervention year on year, whilst insisting that every service intervention is ‘future focused’.
  9. Measures all forms of social action including volunteering and seeks an increase year on year, investing adequately in this rather than seeing volunteering as ‘free’.
  10. Has an active and growing time bank.

I’d be interested in what you think an asset-based council would look like…

(I never like to draw on the learning of asset based community development without acknowledging the work of John MacKnight and recommending his books including The Careless Society.)

7 thoughts on “The asset-based council

  1. Angela Catley June 27, 2016 / 8:37 am

    A really interesting piece Alex. Put me in mind of the Enabling State stuff published by the Carnegie Trust


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  2. Donna Hall June 29, 2016 / 3:36 pm

    Hi Alex,

    It was really strange reading your blog. I am CEO at Wigan Council and through The WIgan Deal we have everything in place you have described except Time Banking.

    It really works! 83 percent of citizens agree with The Deal, we have saved over 100 million and we have the happiest Council staff in the UK.

    Well done with a brilliant blog.

    Donna Hall

    • Alex Fox June 29, 2016 / 5:13 pm

      Donna – thanks very much for commenting. I’ve heard lots about Wigan (partly through my work on the Joint VCSE Review but I’d love to hear more! I’ll email you about a piece of work which might be relevant which is about understanding what an area would look like with all the good stuff grown to the maximum. I’d strongly recommend talking to Spice about time banking if you’re interested in completing the set!

      • Claire Tomkinson July 1, 2016 / 11:42 am

        Or Timebanking UK? Been supporting and developing Timebanking across the UK since the late 1990s. Depends if you’re interested in encouraging more formal volunteering or connecting people with people around their individual skills, talents and interests. Great for creating mutual support networks and enabling people that wouldn’t normally volunteer to have a more active role in their community. Currently over 300 Timebanks in the UK with over 32,000 members that have exchanged over 2 million hours of time. All members of Timebanking UK but run very locally. Have a look at

      • Alex Fox July 1, 2016 / 12:04 pm

        Yes – I’ve not personally had the opportunity to see them in action as I have with Spice, but they are as you say pioneers in the area and very well regarded.

      • Donna Hall July 1, 2016 / 12:09 pm

        Brilliant! yes lets talk Claire _ your work sounds really interesting


  3. Claire Tomkinson July 1, 2016 / 12:21 pm

    Thanks Donna. I’m really involved with Timebanking in Manchester and see lots of ways that it can complement Our Manchester. Great to define people by their capabilities and strengths instead of referring to volunteering or a service to fix what is perceived to be wrong with them all the time. Email is

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