If local government thought 2011 was tough, 2012 may be about to get a whole lot tougher. With an estimated 145,000 job losses in councils over the previous 12 months, some may have thought the heavy lifting had been done. However, my fear is that whilst many have made significant progress in efficiency programmes, this may prove difficult to sustain – and the knock-on effect for councils that didn’t quite get there in year one could be catastrophic. With ongoing redundancies, wage freezes, rising pension payments and inflation remaining relatively high, morale will be near the floor.
Local government will be asked to question its very role as a place shaper as it struggles to cope with social problems created by unemployment, crime and disenfranchisement. Paradoxically, in the midst of this it will continue to be asked to retrench in terms of service delivery, whilst localising and fragmenting provision. Towards the end of the year Ministers will begin more ‘guided localism’.
Further changes in political control will take place at May local elections as the four yearly cycle comes around again and Labour moves away from its historic low of 2008. This could play out differently in Scotland as the SNP’s popularity continues.
The future will remain bleak as on-going economic problems in Europe feeds through as further pressure on public finances from national government level.