The death of local government?

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.

Be patient, we’ll be gone soon enough

Those taxpayers who think councillors are a waste of their council tax and should be done away with, just need to be patient for a few more years, if the local government press is to be believed.

Apparently, the bill for adult social care will increase at such a rate, whilst local government funding will be reduced at a similar rate, that there will no money left to do anything else. It’s estimated that the adult care bill will absorb 90% of the available funding, with the remainder being used to empty the bins. If this forecast is accurate, then I think there will be little need for elected members in whatever remains of local government.

As well as helping to formulate policy for the wide range of services councils currently provide, councillors also set the tax rate that partly pays for these services. Just as importantly, councillors help local taxpayers deal with the effects of those policies, especially when they don’t work as advertised, or even don’t work at all. It therefore follows, that by starving local government of funding, apart from those needed for adult care and emptying the bins, elected members will have little or no policies to formulate and very few issues to help taxpayers with. No policies = no problems = problem solved.

Central government will be able to keep the masses distracted by continuing to promote elected mayors, so there’s something local for them to vote for every few years. Local democratic energies will be absorbed by the outcomes of localism. Local people will need to spend their time running the services they value and that used to be run by councils. This may ultimately lead to the creation of a group of community leaders, trusted by the public to steward these services and charged with making the best use of their communities hard earned money. Indeed, they may even be called councillors.

A no to elected mayors brings cold comfort

This paragraph, lifted from one of Andrew Leighton’s latests blog entries, should be required reading for all of us who are privileged to hold the title, ‘councillor’.

‘Councillors and Council leaders should not take this as a vote of confidence. This was a profoundly anti-politics vote with many anti-politicians sitting at home. If the referendum had been to exile all local cllrs to Siberia a resounding yes vote would have been likely.’