Future visions of local government

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What will local government look like in five year’s time? Will councils be more open, more collaborative, or will they have been forced to close down many of their functions? We asked seven local government experts to set out their visions for the future.

‘All we need is a central government prepared to abandon one-size-fits-all prescription, government bold enough to let places that have the will and the capacity to grab the opportunities that we can now see, to match those councils that already have the drive, determination, and capacity to implement change on a massive scale.’

Thus Richard Leese, leader of Manchester council, begins our series of essays on the future of local government with a passionate plea for councils to be given the opportunity to innovate and experiment. For despite the high levels of austerity already inflicted on many local authorities – and with more to come – as well as the huge challenges faced by the demographic, social and economic changes we are living through, councils up and down the country are putting their heads above the parapet, and pushing through new visions for local governance and services.closed sign 2

In Manchester a combined authority is allowing local areas to pool their resources and punch above their weight, while place-based budgeting is helping create new models for service delivery. Local leaders from Oldham to Islington are creating new models for enterprising civic leadership, with a nod to the great civic leaders of the past, as Adrian Harvey from the New Local Government Network outlines.

In his essay FutureGov’s Dominic Campbell argues that councils have no choice but to be radical as he looks towards a more human, more personalised local government, whose leaders are collaborative and modest, and who use technology to create new services and connect and open up to citizens.

Similarly Robin Tuddenham sets out a challenge for local leaders to become ‘network navigators’, who are as happy functioning at the macro-regional level as in the local co-operative space – or ‘among the weeds’ as hierarchically-focused leaders might call it.

Co-operation has been at the heart of one of the most established of the new models of local government so far. Anna Randle outlines her vision of a new relationship between citizens and the state, a vision that is becoming reality in co-operative councils across the country.  Paul O’Brien’s ‘ensuring council’ focuses on active stewardship by councils to ensure the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of their local areas, with the vision already rolling out on the ground in Blackpool, where the council is ‘ensuring’ all children in their borough have access to nutritious food.

But as Richard Leese recognised, none of this can happen without a change in the relationship between central and local government. Neil McInroy ends off our series of essays with a call for a new relationship between Whitehall and local government. In his vision of central and local government work together to build social cohesion, instil economic resilience and co-direct a fairer England.

The visions are there. Now the hard work begins to turn them into reality…


Sir Richard LeesePlace-based budgeting for true localism

By Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester Council

Given the savagery of the cuts already inflicted disproportionately on urban areas like Manchester, and the savagery of the cuts still to come, the more pessimistic among us might question whether there is any long-term future for local government.  While the scale of the cuts horrifies me and while I do question our ability to absorb yet more, I do think there are grounds for optimism. Perhaps even a bit more than optimism as we have the prospect over the next few years for the most fundamental change in the way public services are delivered with the best of local government at the heart of it.

We have the potential to challenge and overthrow the current condition where most people’s life chances are determined by where they are born and who to. Of creating a new, pervasive social mobility with every neighbourhood built on strong, independent communities. At the heart of this revolution is place-based budgeting, budgets built around places and the people who live there rather than traditional service silos.

The evidence base to support these changes is increasingly in place.  All we need is a central government prepared to abandon one-size-fits-all prescription, government bold enough to let places that have the will and the capacity to grab the opportunities that we can now see, to match those councils that already have the drive, determination, and capacity to implement change on a massive scale.

The localist agenda can now be effectively reduced to two things; sustainable, low or no carbon job-creating growth and public service reform, an agenda wholly reflected in the greater Manchester strategy and in the policies and action of the ten local authorities that make up the greater Manchester combined authority (GMCA).

The combined authority has done much to provide the evidence for change.  It is a structure conceived in greater Manchester out of a recognition by ten local authorities of three political persuasions that our economic interests were best served by coming together within a clear statutory framework. This is something we lobbied for over many years but credit still to the previous government for putting in place the legislation that made striking out alone in this new direction possible and to the current government for letting us do it.

This is unlikely to happen in one big bang but it can happen,

and if it does we can transform the lives of millions of people for the better.

It is already making a difference.  The ability to pool resources has made, for example, the £1.2bn greater Manchester transport fund possible.  It has allowed us to maintain an economic development capacity that none of us would sustain alone and to broker the only city deal at the level of the ‘functional economic area’ because, outside London, we are the only area that has a statutory body at the city-region level which power and resources can be devolved to.

Two years on GMCA is still unique but won’t be for very much longer.  By this time next year expect another four more combined authorities to be in place with, over time, the whole economic geography of the country (including rural areas) adopting sub-regional models based on real economic areas.

However, it is in public service reform and place-based budgeting that we see the biggest potential for radical transformation.  Greater Manchester graduated from work on total place under the previous government to being one of four pilot areas for whole place community budgeting. That pilot allowed us to work with seconded civil servants to develop new models for service delivery and to build the evidence for change.

Greater Manchester is working on five themes; early years, troubled families, transforming justice, health and social care, and as a cross-cutting theme, tackling worklessness.  In all of those areas to a greater or lesser extent we were able to get better outcomes for our residents at, in the long-term, a smaller cost to the public purse.

The principles are relatively straightforward – place-based, whole family approaches with every relevant public service being orchestrated to provide the right interventions in the right order at the time they are most needed.  Easy to describe, not as easy to do as ultimately we need a range of public services, local government, police, health, education and skills and DWP in particular, all working to the same place-based performance management framework.

This is not an approach that devolves every service to the local authority, but it is an approach that requires the one body that is solely concerned with locality i.e. local government, to be the orchestrator and the conductor.  This is unlikely to happen in one big bang but it can happen, and if it does we can transform the lives of millions of people for the better.


Designing a new kind of local government

By Dominic Campbell, founder of FutureGov

A moment of change is upon us. It started with stunned silence after the 2010 election as funding was frozen – as was all momentum – as local government waited to see what was to be handed down to them. This was promptly followed by fear, panic and cuts. Having met those immediate pressures and bought themselves some space to think, councils have started to come out of their shells again over the past 18 months. With the most obvious efficiencies made, most have come to the realisation that this is the new reality no matter what happens in 2015. Local government will not be local government as we knew it ever again.

Those with the most coherent vision and ambitious leadership have begun to set their stall out as to how they are going to position their organisation. How they can meet the wave of social care demand rolling towards them, safeguard children and, alongside all that, stimulate the local economy and think big about the future of place. Whether they are a commissioning council or co-operative council – or something entirely different in between – councils are having their hands forced to think radical.

But there is no single solution. There is no right answer. No fixed end point. Just as traditional businesses are being radically disrupted by upstart start ups, local government is being pincered by government policy from on high and a rise in creative community-led solutions to complex social challenges from beneath.

For me the next few years are as much about the process of discovery as they are about aiming at an end state. In some ways the process of change is an end in itself. Moving to a new way of being. An agile government, one where change is a constant, holding true to a set of values and keeping the needs of participants in public services at heart first and foremost. Truly user-centred public service design as seen through the eyes of the people local government is there to serve.

Fundamental to this, public services in 2013 (let alone in five years time) need to be embracing cutting edge technology. Technology that keeps pace with the outside world, technology that helps people do their job rather than getting in the way, technology that is as intuitive and easy to use as people are used to in their home lives. Human services need human technology.

Our goal must be a more human, more personalised local government.

A more modest local government that takes strength

from better understanding its role as one node in a network

Public services of the future will be an ever more networked and complex set of relationships between people and organisations working together. Through our Patchwork app, for instance, we’re starting to join the dots between this network, making connections across those practitioners and clients no matter where they are, centred around the needs of individuals and communities not public sector siloes.

We are doing this because we recognise that the future of local governance is about the coordination of widely dispersed resources from across the public, social and commercial sectors within local areas.

Public sector organisations need to lead by example, investing to ensure they do so, resisting the pressures of the immediate to invest in rewiring services fit for the future. Services that may be delivered by them and their teams themselves, or crowdsourced public services in partnership with their communities.

For example our Casserole Club initiative provides councils with an opportunity to rethink meals on wheels and tackle social isolation. Through the Casserole Club, supported by a match-making app at its heart, councils can connect cooks and diners in their community to share an extra plate of dinner and get to know someone in their community at the same time. Leadership and support being provided by the council, services delivered by the community. A partnership with each one doing what they do best. Government as a platform on which the community can come together and connect, transforming traditional services (and saving money with it) on the one hand and generating public value on the other.

Our goal must be a more human, more personalised local government. A more modest local government that takes strength from better understanding its role as one node in a network, delivering powerfully on what it can alone do best and providing support, quality control and democratic governance to the network of multiple interactions that represent our public services of the future, whether delivered by a social worker, a private contractor or a neighbour. Understanding where it alone is best placed to deliver a service. Understanding where the council has a place to support, to govern, to ensure standards are met – collaborator in chief. Understanding where it must drive from the backseat, guide, nurture and support, not impose and disrupt organic and often fragile community-led initiatives.

No-one is saying this will be easy. It needs an entirely new mindset. The collaborative leader, the modest leader. After all local government delivers human services which need a lightness of touch and a humanity. But as future recipients of these services, would you want it any other way? Let’s get to work…


Rediscovering enterprising civic leadership 

By Adrian Harvey, head of research at the New Local Government Network

Is local government as we know it finally broken? Certainly, the twin pressures of austerity and a rapidly changing social and technological context put enormous strain on the way that the UK ‘does’ local government. A new model, if not needed, is certainly possible and could enable councils to remain genuinely viable, relevant and independent into the future. This new model council will be one that is fundamentally distinct from both the Fordist model of the post-war period and the managerialism of the post-Thatcherite era. The question is, how do we define that new model and, once we’ve defined it, how do we manage the transition, especially through the storm of cuts that are eviscerating councils up and down the country?

At NLGN we have a bit of a thing for the past. Not in a nostalgic way, much less in the sense that we want to wish away the last twenty years of change in the sector. But there is much to learn from the early days of civic government, before the Whitehall circular and the block grant crowded out the social entrepreneurship that saw our cities paved and fuelled. In our recent pamphlet, The History Boys, we looked back to some of the early heroes of the era of the great municipalities: from Bermondsey to Birmingham, we found civic leaders meeting the starkest of economic and social challenges with imagination and resourcefulness.

Can the twenty first century council rediscover some of that enterprising civic leadership role to establish a new kind of local government? I hope so. Because local government faces a choice: to preside over an ever-diminishing suite of over-subscribed services; or to define a meaningful place leadership role for itself that can marshal the resources of the place – the people, the institutions, the industry and the property – to the betterment of all. Such a choice, of course, is no choice at all.

Meaningful place leadership will acknowledge the past but will be thoroughly modern in its application. Where Chamberlain bought gas works, twenty first century place leaders will create closed-loop systems that turn waste into a resource that can generate power for local homes and businesses and generate revenues for themselves. They will build houses for social rent, of course, but they will also lead joint ventures to build the affordable and market housing their communities need, and that developers won’t build. They will be far more focused on creating resilient communities than on picking up the pieces where policy and economy fail.

Of course, the context is different and the likes of Chamberlain and Salter do not offer a blueprint for the civic leaders of the future. Not least, councils today do not enjoy the blank canvas of those pioneers. Services will still matter – people need them and without them councils risk becoming weightless, phantoms among the other players at the table. Some things can only be secured through collective provision, and many of those are best achieved by the local state. So service innovation is a necessary but insufficient response to the challenges of diminishing budgets, rising demand, and a changing society.

Meaningful place leadership will acknowledge the past but be modern in its application.

Where Chamberlain bought gas works, today’s place leaders will create closed-loop systems that turn

waste into a resource to generate power for local homes and businesses and revenues for themselves

Councils are already testing the water. There are authorities generating energy from waste to secure a healthy revenue stream; boroughs experimenting with new vehicles for developing housing; the first signs of sectoral strategies for growing the next industries. But much more is needed.

Central government has its part to play, and has yet to make good on the promises implied first by Labour’s wellbeing power and latterly the coalition’s power of general competence. It could start by unshackling councils from the treasury’s death grip in financing investment through prudential borrowing; it could help councils negotiate the borders of European ‘state aid’ rules; and it could end the punitive front-loading of public sector cuts onto councils already facing terrible constraints on their capacity to act, let alone innovate.

But this is just oil to the transition. Councils themselves already have the means to transform themselves into the kind of place leaders that will secure their role as vital actors in civic and civil life into the future. Too many lack the confidence that will be required, both in themselves and in the places they lead. They need to find it, and fast. Because, whether this is the death of local government as we know it, or the last best chance to make local government all that it could be, there is no cavalry on its way.


Whither localism?  Local government leaders as ‘network navigators’

By Robin Tuddenham, director of communities and business change, Calderdale Council

Wheelie bins, council tax referendums, council newspapers, traveller encampments. It’s rare for a week to go by when there isn’t a set piece between Whitehall and the local government sector about the relation between the centre and the local. Putting aside the element of usual knockabout in these debates, and imagining the future for local government, it might be time to remember the dynamics of power captured beautifully by Alice Walker; ‘the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.’

This piece sets out some emerging thinking on what localism might mean for local government in 2018, what leadership qualities and skills local leaders will require and how these can empower a local focus on place and people. To retain a sense of the local is important, but local government does not have an immutable right to this territory, and needs a public value proposition to make the sector matter into the future. To achieve this  will require a redefinition of how we operate.

In 2018, it will not be enough to work in partnership, explore shared services and take decisions through existing governance processes. Thinking, decision making and delivery will be dispersed and fraught by the parallel worlds of the hyperlocal, social media and ease of contact, alongside more complex networks of function and governance at the national, regional and local which if not carefully handled might feel further removed from local communities. Examples of this will include the enhanced and important role of regional arrangements through combined authorities, and Local enterprise partnerships (Leps), service integration on health and social care which will blur agency dividing lines and hyperlocal networks through community associations, interest groups and town and parish councils.

Existing place-based identities will be disrupted by these shifts into large scale investment or integration processes, and whilst this will play out politically, the shrewd will recognise that this is about a shift towards different definitions of place that have always been problematic and which will still benefit from community leadership.

The leader as network navigator will exist in a local authority,

where the sense of ‘authority’ will be unrecognisable from what it is now.

They will need to function at both a macro regional level and in the

local co-productive space that existing leaders might imagine as ‘amongst the weeds’.

New Local Government Network has looked at what local government might be like in the future through its Future Councils project. They have argued that councils are likely to split into four options, including models of commercialisation or co-operative approaches or become insular and detached as the community seeks to challenge or take over services.

I believe local government in 2018 will operate in a state of complexity where all four models are likely to be part of the experience for most councils. Few, if any, will be able to operate without an element of commercialisation to sustain some services and few will avoid conflict with local communities over their shifting identity. Most important in terms of understanding what localism might mean is that the current fraught debate between local government and the centre will exist alongside a panoply of networks and arrangements which will render our current language of partnership and shared services redundant.

Local government can make a significant contribution to this public service landscape, but to do so its leaders, both elected members and officers need to be what I would define as network navigators.  The leader as network navigator will exist in a local authority, where the sense of ‘authority’ will be unrecognisable from what it is now. They will need to be able to function at both a macro regional level and in the local co-productive space that existing hierarchically-focused leaders might imagine as ‘amongst the weeds’. The multiplicity of networks in play for local communities wanting to influence services and service outcomes could become exasperating, with the frustration unleashed through social media and the established media fostering an intense and combative environment.

It will be the unique and defining task of local government leadership to articulate a value proposition for the local, navigating these networks to utilise moments of power and influence in an environment where the boundaries between services are hard to see, and where key decisions will often be taken at regional and cross organisational forums and bodies. Whitehall will be seen as the least of the challenges in 2018. If delivered effectively,  other public services and businesses will rely on the local government role, given their own newer political context, as police and crime commissioners,  health and wellbeing boards and Leps determine strategy and resource allocation.

The cumulative effect of these changes will mean that in 2018 the pace of change in public services will have accelerated to the level where a transformative norm has become part of the operating reality for public services in Britain. This means that public services will function through a set of configurations and organisational arrangements predicated upon flux and reflexivity – the dynamic as the norm, with power distributed and earned rather than static and constant. We better start preparing for it now.

Paul O'Briencropped

The ensuring council

By Paul O’Brien, chief executive of APSE

A fundamental rethink is called for if we are to find long-term solutions to the huge challenges faced by local authorities. This is why APSE has developed its ‘ensuring council’ model as a positive vision for taking local government into the next decade and beyond.

The limitations of the ‘enabling council’ approach, which has prevailed in local government for the past decade, are becoming increasingly apparent. This model reduces local government’s role to that of a commissioner rather than a provider of services and can contribute to problems by fragmenting services and leaving hollowed out authorities lacking the capacity to respond coherently, efficiently and effectively to citizens’ needs. The ‘co-operative’, ‘co-ordinating’ and ‘easy’ council models have emerged recently as alternatives. These are all in different ways attempts to respond to the challenges facing local authorities arising from dwindling resources and increasing demand.

However, we believe that local government must be able to maintain the ability to ‘ensure’ that political, economic and social policy objectives are met within their communities. APSE’s vision for the future is one in which local democracy, strategic decision-making and delivery of services to local residents are clearly connected. Ensuring does not call for the retreat of the state, but acknowledges the ongoing responsibility of government for the common good. It recognises that the relationship between government and citizens is a continual relationship based on everyday interactions, which do not disappear between elections.

The principal role of the ensuring council is active stewardship

to ensure the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of the local area.

We believe local authorities will be better equipped to meet challenges in the next five years, the next decade and beyond if they adopt the ensuring ethos. The principal role of the ensuring council is active stewardship to ensure the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of the local area. Core capacity is also important, so that the ensuring council maintains the strategic advantages of in-house services to meet local needs. The spirit of municipal entrepreneurship, which is central to the ensuring model, captures opportunities for collaborative innovation and income generation. The ensuring council foregrounds the democratic legitimacy of local authorities, placing politics and public value before reliance on markets. It endorses collaboration with citizens and stakeholders rather than competition. It acknowledges the responsibilities of local government for advancing social justice.

The challenges faced by local government are immense and we are not suggesting there are any easy solutions. We stress that the ensuring vision should be an ethos that informs local ways of working, rather than a prescriptive template. The principles of the ensuring council have been honed and tested out through our 2020 commission consultation with council officers, elected members and experts from local government bodies. Our new report The Road to 2020:  A Manifesto for the Ensuring Council presents the findings of that consultation and our vision for the future of local government.

There was broad agreement among respondents to the 2020 commission with the principles of the ensuring council. There was positive support for active stewardship, maintaining core capacities in-house, pursuing collaboration over competition, privileging political leadership and addressing social justice. The need for local flexibility in the implementation of the principles of the ensuring council was highlighted and the model does not seek to impose any narrow set of prescriptive measures. The ensuring council is a flexible model that can be applied to suit specific local circumstances.

That’s the vision. So what does the ensuring council look like in practice? Aspects of the ensuring council vision can already be found already within local authorities across the United Kingdom. The ensuring council is flexible in the organisational forms, measures and practices it might entail. Its significance lies in shifting understanding of the roles and responsibilities of local government. Our report features examples of local authority actions that demonstrate an ‘ensuring’ role in areas as diverse as housing, low carbon heating, public health and youth unemployment. In each of these examples, the local authority has joined up its stewardship role with its capacity to deliver efficient, effective services to local residents in order to achieve results that will have a positive impact into the next decade and beyond.


The co-operative council

By Anna Randle, co-operative council implementation lead at Lambeth Council

Co-operative councils up and down the country are creating a compelling new account of the role and value of local government. Their aims of working co-operatively with citizens to achieve positive change and build stronger communities are ambitious in themselves, but in fact they could also form a blueprint for the future of public services based on new, redefined relationships between citizens and the state. The co-operative council agenda in local government could therefore reach well beyond the next five years and beyond the sector, as the paradigm shift that co-operative councils are articulating begins to be more widely understood.

If this shift takes place, what will the key differences be?

Firstly, the traditional concepts of ‘citizens’ and the ‘state’ will be dismantled. Rather than a consumer-provider relationship, in which citizens expect the state to do things for them and use services which might or might not meet their needs, governance and public services will designed on the basis that ‘citizens’ and ‘state’ are part of the same, networked system of relationships.

The question at the heart of public services will therefore no longer be ‘how can we give people the services we think they want?’ but rather: ‘how can public agencies and people work together to create positive change?’

These may seem like simple questions, but they have profound implications. Councils such as Lambeth and Oldham are working through the consequences for their entire operating model, and beginning to make changes that will re-shape how they work and what they do.

Within five years Lambeth will have firmly embedded its co-operative commissioning model as its way of working. Cooperative commissioning places residents at the heart of the commissioning process, with their lived experience afforded an equal status to the different expertise of councillors and officers. Co-production becomes the default, no longer a fringe activity but simply the way the council does business. Residents will help shape the outcomes that underlie all activities the council supports, so the area’s financial and human resources are being invested in the changes local people really value. And the skills, knowledge and relationships of residents that could help achieve those outcomes will be brought to bear through an explicitly asset-based approach.

The question at the heart of public services will therefore no longer be

‘how can we give people the services we think they want?’ but rather:

‘how can public agencies and people work together to create positive change?’

The shift to co-operative commissioning requires change throughout the whole system in Lambeth. Service silos are being dismantled and commissioning and delivery split. The constitution has been re-written, recognising the role of cabinet members as commissioners. And further implications are already emerging which are likely to keep Lambeth and other councils building similar models busy for the next five years and beyond.

Firstly, commissioning for outcomes will require the development of skills and techniques that are currently embryonic in local government. Councils will need to get much smarter about understanding the relationships between outcomes, and the opportunities for generating additional impact across those outcomes from commissioning decisions, as well as making inevitable trade-offs. This may require the use of logic models such as theory of change to map the relationships between activities and outcomes. Strong political leadership may be needed over the prioritisation or sequencing of outcomes. And there will need to be much greater rigour in the collection and use of evidence about what actually achieves change.

Secondly, the relationships between the outcomes being sought by all public agencies in an area mean that community budget type arrangements will become more important.

Thirdly, public agencies will need to be much clearer about their role in creating stronger, more resilient communities and managing demand. Co-production and asset-based approaches to commissioning are part of this, but it requires a mindshift among all stakeholders about what public services are actually there to achieve.

Co-operative councils are pointing the way towards a more complex, networked concept of how relationships and interactions operate – and how these can be brought to bear to achieve change. They are redefining what the state can, and should, usefully do, focusing on how to support all the different people within the system to play their part in producing shared value. Of course there will always be a need for acute, emergency and responsive services. But even many of these services could operate quite differently if seen as part of an ecosystem which includes people – households, local networks, individuals, communities – who are not consumers but co-creators of value.

As we think about the future of public services in the context of falling resources and rising demand, it is essential that the significance of co-operative councils’ endeavours and the learning from these pioneers is more widely understood and recognised. If their approach is to form a blueprint, we will need to use their insights to build a shared vision of a new relationship between citizens and the state in the future.

neil strelka photo 1

Local government at heart of a fairer England 

By Neil McInroy, chief executive of CLES

For decades local government has been mistrusted, under-resourced and under-powered by central government. This is ingrained in the culture of national government and it’s holding our country back. The future should have local government at the heart of better and fairer England. I see a future, in which central and local government work as co-directors of the nation, co-producing a new socially inclusive and economically vibrant future for England and its communities.

Local government offers the country a stewardship role which binds places and people together. But it is being overlooked. We have had deep and hasty centrally-imposed cuts, coupled to rash welfare reform. As a result, many local authorities are in a doom loop, where diminishing budgets are resulting in a failure to meet needs, which in turn prompts a fall in legitimacy. Local authorities are under the cosh, pedalling hard with an ever diminishing and denuding set of local services. Many in local government are fearful, with little power and inadequate resource, with little slack to do anything about it.

Nevertheless, in the face of this, the resilience of local government must be applauded. It has done its best with the unprecedented cuts and is creative in transforming the ways and means of delivery of public services. Over the last five years some local authorities and many local people and organisations have been involved in reassessing what local government is for and how it works in local places and with local people. Some new collaborations and people-centred approaches are in vogue. Co-production and new enabling of communities and local, social and business activity is happening. However, they struggle for sustenance.

For now, a land of deeper inequality and of growing haves and have-nots beckons. Central government broadly sees local government as mere administrators of policy and resource rather than drivers of policy and innovation. The offer of place stewardship is being spurned. Therefore, we need a step change and central reform.

Firstly: Economic development. Local government must be given much greater freedom to shape its own local economic destiny. Local government must build houses, be able to provide infrastructure and investment and drive skills for its own labour markets and business. To achieve this, we must decentralise and devolve more spending from national agencies and Whitehall departmental teams. Let local government and local stakeholders decide.

The key local vehicles for economic development are the central government-fed local enterprise partnerships (Leps). These are a downscaled experiment in 90’s style regionalism – and after three years have proven to be an iterative work in process.

Central government should be partners with local government, not masters.

They need to work together to build social cohesion, steward the sustainable use of resources,

instil economic resilience, assist national competitiveness and in so doing refresh our ailing democracy.

Economic growth is important and this is the main remit given to Leps – jobs and an increase in economic output. This is fine in itself but it’s overly directed by the growth tramlines of Whitehall. Furthermore, local growth activity is all too often detached from local public service reform and effective public services which are vital inputs to business and wider economic success. Addressing social issues and ensuring local people who are protected and nurtured by decent wages, fairness, equality of opportunity and decent local services are a key part of economic planning and vital for the future prosperity of places. This is a strategic job for local government, and they should have a statutory duty for economic development, with Leps and business playing a key advisory and influencing role.

Secondly: Fairness. The future needs a central government which acknowledges that the poorest areas, bedevilled by decades of deindustrialisation and underinvestment need a hand up. We need a pre- and re-distributing centre, which gets actively involved in overseeing national fairness and we need a national industrial strategy and macro economic policy which supports it. Furthermore, the treasury must share its grip on the national finances, back local government and abandon its national economic policy favouritism to one local authority above all others – the City of London Corporation. The skewing of national economic interests to an important, but small part of our country, has went on for far too long.

Thirdly: Local government finance. The future must see a more securely funded local government, with more financial autonomy, on a par with our European counterparts. Local government needs flexibility in council tax banding and council tax capping needs to be abandoned. Other forms of local generated revenue and taxes should be considered.

Fourthly: A new relationship between Whitehall and local government. This has started – for cities. The city deals and cabinet of core cities are positive moves, and whilst admirably driven by minister for cities, Greg Clark and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, they remain bedevilled by the Whitehall machine, with tortuous deal making, departmental silos, arcane working practices, and its aversion to risk. In this, one questions the pace of city deals, the true extent to which Whitehall is truly changing and whether the gains can be secured. To resolve this, local government and Whitehall require more certainty. Therefore, Whitehall departments must have agreed city deal budgets, detailed in national spending reviews. Local government also needs some constitutional protection, so that central government can’t change the rules of the game at will. We need a deeper a priori contractual agreement between Whitehall and town hall, laying out responsibilities, duties and freedoms of the signatories.

Finally, local government are the experts in working with social and commercial partners to curate and steward the places we work, do business, live and bring up families in. Central government must recognise this role. Central government should be partners with local government, not masters. They need to work together to build social cohesion, steward the sustainable use of resources, instil economic resilience, assist national competitiveness and in so doing refresh our ailing democracy.

Central and local government should be working as co-directors of a fairer England.


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Ken Eastwood
Ken Eastwood
10 years ago

Excellent piece. Right on the money.

Dominic Campbell
Dominic Campbell
10 years ago
Reply to  Ken Eastwood

Thanks Ken – good to hear it resonated

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