Porter: Some councils need a ‘kick up the backside.
Copied from Local Government Chronicle online 25 June, 2015 | By Sarah Calkin
LGC interviews the LGA’s chair elect as he prepares to take up the role next week.
Requiring poorly performing councils to be scrutinised by their stronger counterparts will help local government win extra powers through devolution, says the incoming chair of the Local Government Association.
In a wide-ranging interview with LGC, Gary Porter (Con), said it was essential that weaker councils improved if the sector was to win the turst of MPs and other parts of the public sector.
“Parliament judges us on our worst colleagues and we can’t afford in the next few years for that to be the case,” he said. “We cannot deny that some of our colleagues in local government really could do with a kick up the backside. And if we try to deny that we will never be taken credibly.”
The LGA had to find a way to make councils that refused peer review “to have help” to improve, Cllr Porter added. Compulsory reviews have been previously proposed by the LGA, which is now seeking meetings with ministers to advance the idea.
According to Cllr Porter, the passing of power from Whitehall to local government through devolution is the “only way” ministers could cut spending while improving public services.
In a departure from the rhetoric of outgoing chair David Sparks (Lab) and his Conservative predecessor Sir Merrick Cockell (Con), Cllr Porter said the association would no longer be warning that councils risked bankruptcy.
The LGA, he added, had reached a “stronger” and “more mature place” after years of resisting budget cuts with dire warnings that services would deteriorate.
“In the past, we have said ‘this is outrageous, people can’t have less money spent because the outcomes will be a lot worse’ and we know that’s not the case for the past four to five years.”
He continued: “[Government has] a mandate to take out money. We’ve got some plans to help them do that in a much better way.”
The LGA is due to set out its ideas about how to manage this parliament’s spending cuts at its annual conference next week.
Cllr Porter said devolution and integration with other public services would be central to its proposals and believed ministers would be “receptive” to such proposals.
“I’m still confident that reductions in spending can be achieved at the level they need but not just by singling [local government] out as an easy target.”
He described the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill as “largely good” and was confident rural authorities could be extended the “same deal” as that won by Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
He urged authorities to start conversations with neighbouring authorities and “other bits of the state” when developing proposals for devolution.
“It could be a good thing for the health sector, it could be a good thing for rural police forces to be in that space,” he added.