There are 54 item(s) tagged with the keyword "Local government".
The prevailing issue that has exercised the minds of those in local government for the last decade has been dealing with the impact of austerity. Whilst rumours of its demise may be somewhat premature it is likely to be overtaken by something that may have an even more fundamentally profound impact on councils, dominating almost every decision they make over the next decade – that of climate change.
Whilst many councils are alert to this agenda, with dozens declaring climate change emergencies, particularly in response to high profile public protests by young people, it is easy to move the date you expect to be carbon neutral forwards by ten years or so, but unless you focus on deliverables then achieving such aspirations could prove to be difficult in practice. The clock is ticking. There is an urgent need to move beyond strategising and rhetoric to making significant progress.
For those MJ readers of a certain age they will no doubt remember the magical world of Mr Benn; as a spaceman, a zookeeper, a cook or a diver. The adventures were always captivating and of course he received his souvenir medal once he returned through the changing room at the fancy-dress shop where his adventures commenced from. Now you may of course be wondering what Mr Benn’s has to do with local government? Well the current crop of chief officers, those who report directly to chief executives, often find themselves in a Mr Benn like world.
Local government was once a place of Weberian style municipal discipline; clearly defined roles and with that silo working, along delineated professional functions. Planners did planning. Engineers did Highways. Mr Benn would have stayed bedecked in his bowler hat! Today’s local authority chief officers, not only look different from that bygone era but are increasingly working under different guises; changing costumes to suit the adventures of the day.
It’s time for an honest conversation about tax in the UK. Successive Governments have pledged not to increase the tax burden on the public in their manifestos and then once in power they put in place policies that do the opposite.
Just look at the shift that has taken place in tax revenues since austerity started. In 2010, local government’s core spending power of £50B was around 80% funded from local tax yield with a further 20% subsidy from direct taxation. Fast forward to 2019 and the £46B or so that local government will receive in core spending power in the coming year, is outstripped by the £52B that will be raised in local taxation. Local taxation is now clearly subsidising national spending.
Local people and local businesses are now paying significantly more in council tax and business rates for the services they receive at a time when many of the neighbourhood services, that determine the look and the feel of the place, are being decimated. Add to this the fact that fees and charges have also either been introduced or increased, in order to try and hold local services together and we really are testing people’s patience.
Many ingredients go into making a community a place where people are proud to live and work, so is there a danger of eroding local government’s ability to place-shape effectively as a result of a series of policy decisions and funding cuts?
Previous governments’ strategies for neighbourhood renewal seem a distant memory, alongside the levels of accessible funding that went alongside them. Whilst criticism existed of approaches being overly centralist, ‘funding with strings attached’, local government remains at the mercy of central government policy decisions and delivering budget cuts is the only thing in which it seems to have more freedom.
Recent events in Northamptonshire have hammered home the message that local government has reached a tipping point in terms of its finances. Anyone who thinks that the problems faced at the County Council are unique is in for a rude awakening. In this context is it time for a new municipalism?
With policy pressures piling up and budgets diminishing rapidly for many services it is time for local authorities to take back control of their areas by reclaiming entrepreneurship, rather than the outdated thinking that someone else should do this for them. This is not about acting commercially in the blind pursuit of income generation but to identify the major policy puzzles facing communities and thinking creatively and innovatively about how to solve these policy conundrums. Where markets have failed to deliver the outcomes that local communities need then it’s time for local councils to step up to the plate.
A recent APSE opinion poll, conducted by Survation, exploring public opinion on neighbourhood services, found that yet again, the public give parks the highest satisfaction ratings amongst all local government services, however we also know that parks are one of the hardest hit services as a result of austerity, with many facing an uncertain future.
Anyone who reads the local government sectoral journals is well versed in the graph of doom scenario and the squeeze it creates on non-statutory services. The £3B of cuts that have hit England’s neighbourhood services are playing out harshly on the average parks services and for the most deprived areas the impact of austerity is felt all the more harshly.
It was a hugely symbolic moment when Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced £2bn of additional funding for a new generation of council housing during her speech at the recent Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
Whilst it doesn’t quite take us back to the 1950’s when Housing Minister Harold McMillan enhanced his future Prime Ministerial credentials by building over 300,000 new homes in a single year, around 200,000 of which were council houses, it shows an eventual acceptance by Government that we are not going to tackle one of the biggest public policy challenges of our time without State intervention.
While successive Governments have talked about housing need, population growth, changing demographics and set ever increasing targets for the amount of homes required, we have seen little success on closing the gap between the numbers of homes needed and the amount of new builds actually taking place.
With the General Election debate starting to heat up, it’s pleasing to see that the housing crisis is featuring quite prominently in the major political party’s manifestos and more importantly local government’s role as part of the solution.
Whilst it’s not quite the 1951 election where the parties were competing on who could build the most homes during the course of the next parliament, with Harold McMillan’s Prime Ministerial credentials established on the back of delivering on housing pledges made, there is significant recognition by all that the number of homes built needs to increase dramatically in the coming years. The question is how can this be delivered by the next Government?
It’s the infrastructure and facilities, it’s the look and the feel, it’s the local environment and how safe and secure the area is. At a time when we are trying to attract people to our localities and communities, are we cutting back on the very things that make places habitable, those very highly visible and publically recognised neighbourhood services?
We know that local authority expenditure in the UK will be 30% less by 2020, than it was in 2010, we also know that in England local government finance will have moved to a much more local financing model by that point. Under current Government plans most councils will be almost fully dependant on a mixture of council tax and business rates revenue, alongside a small amount of other grants and income generated through commercial activity.
Councils could be forgiven for wondering if Government remains as committed to devolution and decentralisation of power, post Brexit, as it appeared to be before June’s vote.
What started well and seemed to have support at the highest level of Government, with George Osborne’s zealot like enthusiasm, doesn’t appear to have the same prominence with new cabinet figures, indeed some fear that the agenda could simply fizzle out.