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.
During the next five years we are likely to see even tougher financial settlements for local government than the last five, which those of us who have lived through that period will find it hard to comprehend. Whoever is elected to Westminster next May, the current austerity approach is likely to continue with no respite until at least 2019, when the IFS predicts the deficit will be eradicated under current plans. This will place huge pressure on local services and demand yet more tough decisions about what we continue to provide, to what level and standard, how and who delivers these services.
At APSE, we have been developing our big idea for the future of local government, the ‘Ensuring Council’. This is based on an ethos recognising that if councils want to tackle the big public policy issues of the day – such as housing need, climate change, youth unemployment, welfare reform, elderly care, local economies and public health – they need to retain the core capacity that allows them to play a prominent role on behalf of their communities. However, councils will also need to continue to become ever more efficient, innovative, and entrepreneurial and also manage rising demand. They will need to integrate services with the wider public sector and manage partnerships to achieve not only value for money but public value.
Local democratically and accountable elected representatives are best placed to make difficult decisions about rationing scarce resources and ensuring social justice. They play the key role in scrutinising and monitoring services for the public good.
The next five years are going to test some of the fundamental principles of local government. Councillors will be faced with extremely difficult decisions – the ones nobody else wants to make. Whether an Executive or Non-Executive member, their judgement will be sorely tested, they will sometimes have to make trade-offs on policies and values, they will have to be creative in seeking solutions, embrace a spirit of municipal entrepreneurialism, advocate for their communities and hold together the local services that local people rely on.