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In early July the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published the initial findings of Roger Witcomb’s investigation into the UK energy markets. With the average UK household currently spending around £1,200 on energy each year, energy prices have turned up the heat on politicians.
The Witcomb findings suggest that we need to make the energy market work better for consumers. But do we really believe that after a 75% rise in electricity and 125% on gas prices over the past decade we can simply tweak the medicine of market regulation in order to make those markets work better? I would beg to differ.
In 1966, the TV drama Cathy Come Home was described as being like 'an ice-pick in the brain of all who saw it' such were the hard-hitting messages of homelessness, poverty and despair. Sadly nearly 50 years later we are still plagued by housing shortages and homelessness. Cathy's despair didn't transfer into the political will to make homes for all a priority.
DCLG released quarterly figures on 21 May and yet again council house building is at the bottom of the pile with just 1,230 homes completed between April 2014 and March 2015 in England. Set these figures against the backdrop of some 1.7 M on council waiting lists in England, and it’s clear that housing remains an ongoing national crisis.
APSE’s recent publication Two Tribes? Exploring the future role of elected members, has proven timely given some of the recent governance challenges that have been thrown at local government.
More than a decade on from modernisation of political management structures, which replaced the existing committee system with a formal cabinet, overview and scrutiny system, one of the main issues emerging from the research is the feeling of disillusionment amongst non-executive elected members, who feel marginalised from real decision making with little influence over issues that affect their local areas.
A lively APSE meeting in Edinburgh yesterday with debates taking place on governance, environmental challenges, commercialisation and demand management. With over 60 delegates present including Chief Executives, Directors, Leaders and portfolio holders a healthy discussion flowed across all of the topics.
The recent Public Accounts Committee report on contract management made for interesting reading over the holidays with some important lessons for local government contained within it.
In launching the Committee's findings, its Chair, the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, pointed to the fact that £90bn of taxpayers' money is spent each year on the private sector supplying public goods and services. She quite rightly stressed that, with this amount of public money at stake, it is vital that the highest ethical standards are practised by contractors.
Over the past few months, APSE and our academic partners have been looking at what the future role of elected members will be between now and 2020 - and sadly the forecast is for stormy waters.
It’s time for national politicians to show more bravery and think long term if we are to make the money available for public services go much further. Whilst I welcome the Chanecllors announcement of funding for free school meals for junior school children in his Autumn statement I would like him to go much further. In my view one of the best invest to save schemes available would be extending free school meals to all primary school children.
To the workforce in local government this is your day.
Getting up at the crack of dawn to grit and maintain the roads infrastructure, sweep the streets, clean the schools and public buildings, this is your day.
While there are few surprises when it comes to local government’s ability to attract the blame for issues of national significance they have had very little control over, even a cynic like myself was shocked at how quickly they became the whipping boys on public health when recent life expectancy league tables were published.