The way forward, but is anybody listening?

It’s unfortunate that, even when there is agreement that unitary is the best and most cost effective way to provide local government service, politicians still waste time and energy protecting their individual power bases.
I’ve yet to fathom Eric Pickles’s reasoning for sticking his oar in as soon as he got in to office in 2010, and stopping those that were in train. Possibly pre-election whinging, from Conservative councillors in those areas, fearful that they would get the boot from the electorate, was the cause of this early interference, something that has continued at a pace.

Too much time and effort is wasted by politicians protecting their own interests under the pretence of championing the interests of those who elected them. The vast majority of taxpayers care little for which part of local government provides the services they need to access. What they do care about, is how much their council tax bill will be every April. Yet despite what should be blindingly obvious, lower tier politicians spend their trying to pass on the cost to the upper tier, or refusing to work with that upper tier, because they can nothing in it for them.

As far as the taxpayer is concerned, a saving in their council tax, is a saving in the council tax, no matter where it comes from. Put another way, if a district council works with their county council, to help that county council save money, then that is as much to the credit of those district councillors as it is the county councillors, if not more. Unfortunately many councillors at the district level can only see the numbers in their own budget and refuse to acknowledge any wider savings that are being made.

However, it’s not just a case of making everything unitary and all will be well in local government. I’ve no idea how well or badly local government is working within the East Riding of Yorkshire. However, given that it’s the largest unitary in England, is divided into 26 wards and has a total of 67 councillors (Lincolnshire County Council has 77 councillors, covering only county council services) it would be very interesting to know and I don’t mean just what the council and it’s politicians would like you to believe.

Would Lincolnshire work as one large unitary? Personally, I don’t believe that it would, but that’s just my opinion. I’m always willing to be persuaded differently based on evidence that unitary councils such as East Riding of Yorkshire Council is serving its rural council taxpayers well.

Copied from the Local Government Chronicle. From a series of articles written by a senior local government officer, who remains anonymous.

Inside Out: Unitary is strength
5 March, 2014

I have always believed unitary is strength when it comes to local government. I was really pleased when it was recently reported that Labour is looking to embrace it.

I was less pleased with the government’s response. They ‘played politics’ with it rather than responding to the issue.

Granted, the move to unitary councils has never been smooth.Councils disappear, people lose their power and influence, places can feel they lose their identity, and there are always transitional costs. However, the advantages when unitary government is established far outweigh the transitory downsides.

I have worked for a district that became a unitary council, a county unitary and a district unitary. One size does not fit all circumstances. It seems to be assumed these days that unitaries should always be based on counties. This is a disservice to the strength and professionalism of district councils and will be a barrier to change in some circumstances.

There are three secrets to make moving to unitary local government successful. First, the area covered needs to make sense to residents. My hometown was moved from Lancashire to Merseyside in 1974. I still address Christmas cards to my relatives using Lancashire, 40 years later. The boundaries of unitaries need to be determined locally.

Second, there needs to be strong national leadership. The whole of England needs to be covered by unitary government. Unless this is made clear, local vested interests will fight change and drive up costs.

Finally, it needs strong local leadership, seeking consensus on change and then managing the change well. There are savings and service improvements that can be unleashed by bringing together tiers of government, but they have to be realised. They don’t happen on their own.

Given the financial struggle matched with rising demand, no element of transformational change can be dismissed. My heart sinks when I think of yet more organisational change. But maybe it needs such a shake-up to unlock the other changes we need to embrace. Unitary is strength.

DCLG does a high speed u turn

Copied from LGC on line
8 February, 2013 | By Ruth Keeling

Almost thirty rural councils which were this week awarded funding to help deliver services in their sparsely populated local areas have now been told they will receive nothing after all.

Local government minister Brandon Lewis (Con) announced £8.5m funding for 113 councils as part of the final local government settlement, but data issued on Monday was reissued on Tuesday with changed allocations for every council on the list.

Twenty nine authorities informed of the grant on Monday were told on Tuesday they would get nothing, while six new authorities have been added to the list. Of those remaining on the list, some have lost 90% of the original allocation while others have seen their grant more than quadruple.

LGC understands a number of councils have contacted the department for an explanation but have not received any information.

Graham Biggs, chief executive of Sparse, part of the Rural Services Network which campaigned for extra funding for rural councils, said DCLG had not explained why the change had taken place.

“We have been inundated with queries as to what is going on,” he said. “But we are in a position of not being able to answer them.”

One finance director from an authority which had lost out in the second list described the reissue of the allocations as “yet another example of total ineptitude in DCLG”.

A DCLG spokesman admitted its allocation list for the sparsity fund had been “temporarily incorrect”. She added: “As soon as we realised this – within 24 hours – the correct version was put on the website and councils were informed.”

In total, 58 authorities gained something or were added to the list while 68 lost funding or were removed from the list altogether.

The six authorities added to the list were Ashford BC, Boston BC, Carlisle City Council, Harrogate BC, Scarborough BC and West Berkshire Council with grants ranging from £3,600 to £24,000.

Authorities who were already on the list issued by the Department for Communities & Local Government but now have bigger grants include Eden BC which saw the biggest increase of 484%, with an allocation which has gone from £12,000 to £67,000 within a day.

Authorities who have lost their allocation completely include Oxfordshire CC which had been set to receive £465,000 to the Council of the Isles of Scilly which had been allocated £4,000 – see table below.

Of those who remain on the list, significant losers include Cambridgeshire CC whose allocation was cut by 91% from £342,000 to 32,000 and Bassetlaw BC which lost 95% from £13,000 to £649.

For full details of the new and old allocations and the difference between them see LGC’s data table.

Councils losing 100% of allocation
Original allocation £m
Oxfordshire 0.465
Durham 0.224
Cheshire East 0.205
Central Bedfordshire 0.160
North Somerset 0.144
Isle of Wight Council 0.109
Cambridgeshire Fire 0.038
Tendring 0.027
South Oxfordshire 0.019
Sevenoaks 0.019
Mid Sussex 0.018
Tonbridge and Malling 0.018
Lewes 0.017
East Hampshire 0.017
Test Valley 0.017
Dover 0.016
Durham Fire 0.016
Waverley 0.016
West Lancashire 0.014
Stroud 0.014
Lichfield 0.014
East Dorset 0.014
Tandridge 0.013
Rushcliffe 0.012
High Peak 0.011
Tewkesbury 0.011
North West Leicestershire. 0.011
South Bucks 0.010
North East Derbyshire 0.010
North Warwickshire 0.008
Isles of Scilly 0.004

Note: South Holland figures are:
New Allocation £m Previous Allocation £m Difference £m % change
0.016 0.013 0.003 25%
Makes you wonder why they bothered


patrick newman | 8-Feb-2013 5:20 pm

If you think DCLG is in a poor way just wait until this unprotected department is assaulted by Osborne’s next cuts while Eric Piffle holds his coat and cheers him on.
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