Localism, community right to challenge, independent schools, neighbourhood planning, community panels and of course, directly elected mayors. A common thread here, or to use the current jargon, the golden thread, is community. You could actually translates the term community into, ‘non-local government’. I say local government, because central government has made sure that none of the plans put forward for the reform of public services, have threatened their continued existence.
There’s been a concerted effort by the likes of Eric Pickles and George Osbourne, to make local government the villains of the piece, in taxpayers’ eyes, when it comes to the cost of providing public services. This ‘official’ campaign is under-pinned by the long held and media fuelled public perception of local government – It’s full of pen pushing bureaucrats; they all have a job for life so do as little as possible; what they do do, is always done at half speed; there’s too many managers, getting inflated levels of pay; when they retire, it’s too early and they all get a gold-plated pension. Oh! and while we’re at, those bloody councillors are a waste of space and get too much in expenses! They actually mean allowances, as expense are simply the refunding of what’s been paid out for things such as travel, whereas allowances are what councillors receive for being councillors.
Given this unremitting assault on local government from all sides, one has to wonder how long it will be before local government becomes pretty much extinct, which it’s difficult not to see as the ultimate ambition for Whitehall – why? Think about it – a large amount of tax revenue is currently diverted to local government through the grant process. Leaving most local services to be provided and therefore funded by the communities that use them, would give government a very large pot of money that wasn’t available before. Those services that are left for local government to provide, such as emptying the bins, will be funded from the perpetually frozen council tax, the partial retention of the business rates and possibly CIL. There will of course be a few other roles for local government to fulfil, because the government either can’t be bothered with it, or need to deflect blame away from themselves by putting somebody else in the firing line. Public health and the universal credit being the current ones.
Adult social care and the growing concerns surrounding the cost of provision suggests that this could still be the elephant in the room. However, given how duplicitous central government has been towards local government to date, I suspect they already have a plan that will leave local government further sidelined and weakened, whilst also being blamed for its failings.