Greg Clark’s speech to the LGA, shortly before the Government reshuffle took place, showed that Government have begun to recognise that a disconnect exists between the prevailing orthodoxy in Westminster on public opinion and the realities of life at a community level.
Following the seismic events of the last few weeks, which have shaken the political establishment to its core, it’s going to take more than a few soundbites and platitudes to appease the public.
The notion of ‘we are all in this together’ has appeared quite hollow when ordinary people perceive that politicians and bankers are carrying on as normal, whilst basic services are withdrawn or rationed for them and they are less than optimistic about their own future prospects.
Clark’s recognition of the important role local government plays in ‘bringing stability and confidence’ to the daily lives of our communities was a good starting point, and in marked contrast to his predecessor who appeared to hold contempt for the sector. However, communities want more than warm words, they want to see visible evidence of things improving and investment in their local areas.
The Minister's recognition of the ‘practicality and directness’ councils bring, and the impact this has on the quality of life within communities, was welcome, but we now need this to be matched with funding, if Government is truly going to demonstrate that it listened, when the people spoke out in protest on 23 June.
It is vital that local government has seats at the top table in any Brexit negotiations. In APSE’s view if we are truly to represent the interests of our local communities, then this delegation must include those who interface on a daily basis with the public on the frontline; those people who really do make places ‘greener, cleaner and healthier’.
The public aren’t fools, they see services they truly value like parks and the streetscene, creaking under the strain of continuous cuts; they see fabric crumbling through lack of investment. For those who just want a decent quality affordable home for rent, the idea of a home owning democracy seems an unachievable goal.
Therefore Mr Clark, the praise is welcome, but local government’s patience is becoming really stretched with the patronising pats on the head for overcoming the 'almost impossible' time and again. We welcome the devolution journey but how about furnishing us with some decent financial settlements in the meantime? Then we can start to repair the damage that has been done in terms of the breakdown of trust between communities and the establishment.