The Local Government Association (LGA) Coastal Special Interest Group (SIG) is uniquely placed to influence government, national agencies and support local authorities deliver on a range of coastal issues.
The LGA Coastal SIG consists of 56 English coastal local authorities. It seeks to champion and represent the collective interests of coastal, estuarine and maritime communities through increasing awareness and debate on environmental, economic and social issues in relation to the coast and wider marine environment. It works in partnership with other organisations with complimentary aims and brings pressure on the Government to secure local government’s full involvement at all levels of policy formulation concerning the coast.
What difference can the SIG make?
The SIG’s contribution can be summarised as follows:
A powerful political impact – The SIG’s most powerful role is to empower Members at both national and local level to provide the critically important political voice needed by coastal communities, with the backing of technical and regulatory information of the highest quality. That quality springs directly from the collective expertise which SIG embodies. The SIG effectively focuses political pressure on Government and the other Agencies from the coastal local authority perspective.
Those organisations developing policy and practice often wish to consult with a single body to either test out ideas or communicate the strategic direction of travel. The SIG provides that single point of contact. It is an early warning system of new challenges ‘on the horizon’ to be faced by local authorities.
‘The SIG is invaluable in the development of policy and working with a strong representative local authority organisation will be essential in developing responses to forthcoming EU directives’.
A Defra official
Shared Experience, Shared Expertise – The SIG membership cultivates a strong Member and officer rapport both within and between authorities. This taps into a very wide range of experience and expertise from around the country that is readily shared through the SIG. The full SIG meetings, the Officer Group, and through its website, the SIG provides a valuable network of contacts and a forum for geographically diverse local authorities with limited resources faced with similar coastal challenges. Within any one local authority there are usually only a very limited number of officers and members with coastal knowledge, accordingly the ability to network with others around the country provides an irreplaceable resource of knowledge and experience.
For example – Learning from the development of the East Marine Plan is being shared with other regions supporting other local authorities in managing these additional burdens.
‘The SIG has proved very valuable to the MMO for understanding the aspirations and feelings of many local authorities and enabled the distribution of information out to a wide local authority audience easily. In future the MMO sees great value in opportunities for joint research especially in the overlap between marine and terrestrial environments’.
A leading MMO Planning officer.
Combining resources – The SIG is a ready made forum to co-ordinate responses to policy consultations which are highly demanding of limited officer time. Any individual officer or local authority may not have the breadth of knowledge to respond to the range of issues, or the time to deal with the ever increasing volume of topics. In addition there is an ‘authority’ given to a combined response from a respected body like the SIG.
For example – Responding to the various stages of the Marine Bill, proved to be essential in ensuring that local authorities understood what was being/not being included and helped shape legislation.
Developing new expertise – Reacting to marine and coastal related incidents has initiated work that has been shared between members and has enabled new procedures and policies to be developed to reduce the impact of any future events. The knowledge that is built up can then be shared across the members of the SIG.
For example – The sinking of the Napoli and Ice Prince generated the Shipping Incidents Working Group which has lead to the drafting of a report and the development of cross channel declaration for future co-operation following any future incident.
Supporting Members – Portfolio holders and other members who have coastal wards have many challenges placed upon them and many different aspects to be able to incorporate into a wider understanding. The SIG provides strong professional advice from around the country and provides the opportunity to help build knowledge and expertise on a wide range of issues.
For Example – The position statements development by the SIG will enable members to have easily accessible key facts about leading issues affecting the coast that they can then tailor to their individual needs with confidence and authority.
Who should value the SIG?
The value of the SIG will vary for different ‘audiences’. These can be considered in a number of distinct sectors:
- Current SIG members – The SIG empowers Members at both national and local level to provide the critically important political voice needed by coastal communities. This empowerment derives from sharing of experience and information on mutual issues, combining resources to tackle issues and consultations, developing new expertise in a rapidly developing environment, supporting members e.g. development of joint position statements and providing a single voice on co-ordinating and influencing activity including but not exclusively for government legislation.
- Coastal communities who benefit both directly and indirectly from the work of the SIG. For instance emergency planning with shipping incidents will now be more robust following the work undertaken by the SIG which should help to reduce the impact on coastal communities of any future event or indirectly through a better understanding of local authorities on complex issues such as funding of coast defence works.
- Government departments and bodies who seek to inform and gain feedback from a representative body of local authorities providing an effective single conduit into the leading local authorities on a coastal issues. This is sighted by a number of different agencies as being of significant benefit.
- Local Government Association – Within the LGA itself, there is a body of expertise to be engaged with and provide sound effective advice/views championed by experienced and progressive local authorities. This may also strengthen other existing groups to tackle mutual problems on a shared co-ordinated basis.
- Coastal Local Authorities who are not members receive the indirect ‘halo’ benefit of a respected voice for the local authorities but as yet do not contribute to the debate or add their weight to the argument. However they do benefit collectively from any changes in policy or direction that may be achieved through the work of the SIG.
Value for Money:
Local Authority membership fees for the SIG are less than £1/day and this represents excellent value for money for each authority. Membership enables any authority to have full access to the work of the SIG. Other direct costs e.g. travel and time for attendance at meetings by both officers and members will depend on how engaged any local authority wishes to be. Correspondence is electronic or via the website and an exciting work programme dealing with key coastal issues is under development.
The LGA Coastal SIG engages with a wide range of key individuals and topics. This can be demonstrated by the list of SIG Guests and Guest presenters (January 2012 to March 2013) demonstrating the breadth of engagement (Appendix A in attached document).
The SIG is also invited to support/attend an extensive range of meetings and workshops to provide the local government perspective. These are attended by the Chairman and others to ensure the views and perspective of the LGA Coastal SIG is represented (Appendix B in attached document).
The SIG actively works to respond to consultation combining the expertise of SIG members not only to provide the SIG’s response but also to help individual local authorities provide an expert balanced response (see consultation responses page of the website for the latest submitted consultation responses).