Local Councils Need Serious Reform – Conservative Article
There has been talk since late 2020 about potential local governance reform. I sincerely think that local governance is in need of some serious restructuring. UK government administrations have floated this idea since the 1960s but no major reforms have taken to fruition until now.
Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing and Communities, put forward plans in July. However, this was shelved until 2021 to combat the pandemic. The initial White Paper was supposed to outline the merging of local councils into regional councils and the increase of decentralisation through an increase in mayors to head regional governments.
A report by the Centre for Cities institution suggests that “local government boundaries [are] to be redrawn and powers brought together”. This would mean shifting from 349 local authorities to 69 mayoral led ones. If this means having a mayoral assembly similar to the Greater London Assembly (GLA) so be it. Mayoral leaders would also be elected by the people in the regions, further reflecting the people’s needs. This then ensures that there is structured scrutiny and that the people are represented. For far too long, local council authorities have been tied up in local party politics where no real work is done.
The local governments must then have the same powers and devolutionary responsibilities that London has had for the past 20 years. The centralised core government in Westminster can only get involved when absolutely necessary. The report also recommends that “all two-tier systems will be reformed to unitary structures”. This makes perfect sense to reduce policy fragmentation. Policy fragmentation only brings further inefficiency as it is spread across different tiers of government.
However, we do not want devolution and decentralisation of power to go too far, as the government of the day will not successfully carry out their agenda. This is simply just a restructuring proposal to ensure that the work being asked is completed in line with the government’s agenda. But, local mayoral authorities should be given control over council tax. This would put greater responsibility into local government, something that is clearly lacking.
One crucial concern over these reforms is that the people would not be represented well enough, as mayoral authorities would cover greater land than small council authorities. To solve this, as I have previously mentioned, the mayoral authorities should have an association similar to the GLA whereby its members are elected.
At the Local Government Association Annual Conference in 2020, Simon Clarke, the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Governments, explicitly stated in his speech that “our transforming plan will include a clear, ambitious strategy for strengthening our local institutions”. The costs to implement these changes but will result in savings overall. For example, a report by Leicester County Council revealed that “a single unitary council for Leicestershire would cost £19m to implement but unlock £30M annual savings, with an acceptable payback period”. If I might say so, as extensive and as expensive the task of reforming would be, this will be worth it in the long run.
I would like to also nip in the bud any concerns about the efficiency of this administration, as the government did postpone the release of the White Paper in 2020. The release has been shifted to 2021. But, I feel this will most likely be in 2022 due to the extensive nature of the task and reforms planned. This has happened due to the pandemic. The governments’ efforts, focus and money are currently being used instead to fight the pandemic and work towards economic recovery.
In response to the news of the local government reforms White Paper in 2020, many local councils released reports of support for the extensive reforms. I do not see any reason why these changes cannot be made.
We cannot keep on lying to ourselves. Local governments and governance are in deep need of reform!
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Max Jablonowski
Point of Information
Of course, reform is needed. But is it enough? – A Liberal Response
I am in complete agreement with Max that local governments are in desperate need for reform. They have been for a very long time. The Liberal Democrats have campaigned for stronger local governments for decades. So it is actually quite relieving to see that Westminster is starting to take this issue seriously.
It appears that Max’s primary reason for supporting local council reform is because our local governments are both inefficient and ineffective. And these concerns are completely valid. Our local governments are inefficient and ineffective. But I think it is important to stress what I believe to be the main reason why more local reform is needed; our heavily centralised government is not working.
Britain’s centralised state partly came about because of a desire to end inequality. In the late 19th century, the national government took on more power to address the mounting geographical disparity across the country. However, the very inequalities that this transformation aimed to address are plaguing the country once again.
The UK’s level of regional inequality is one of the worst in the developing world. Typically, those who live in more deprived areas (most found in the North) have lower-incomes, lower life expectancies, fewer people pursuing higher education and higher rates of poverty. Therefore, where you grow up in the UK matters. It can have a fundamental impact on the rest of your whole life. And these deep divides in our country are only continuing to get worse.
Arguably, strong local governments would be able to generate better and more innovative ideas for running public services and spending taxpayers’ money more than Westminster ever could. They will have a deeper understanding of the area and know exactly what needs improving. Politics would have more of a personalised approach – who wouldn’t want that?
Yes, obviously, as Max mentions, it is important to strike a balance between national and local governments. The national government must have overall authority for the UK to function effectively. Therefore, national minimum standards must be present in the unlikely situation that a local government turns radical. But, ultimately, I firmly believe that there is an undeniable case for greater decentralisation.
So the question is, will these tentatively proposed reforms be able to provoke the positive impact that local governments so urgently need? Personally, I am not convinced.
Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Beccy Reeves
Local council reform must reflect representation – A Labour Response
I appreciate the enthusiasm that Max has on this issue. I too believe local councils need significant reform, as we are hearing of more and more corruption every day. However, I am not convinced that we have the right solution as of yet. And I am not sure that Max does either. For me, his suggestion doesn’t quite meet the mark.
The idea of having 69 mayoral led local governments leaves me in a bit of a predicament. I am somewhat torn between this being an okay idea and a catastrophic disaster. Having an element of democracy and electing these officials is a great idea. It would increase scrutiny. As Max said, this would subsequently allow for greater trust in these councils.
However, there is potentially a greater impact on representation here. I know Max touched on this slightly but I think it would prove a much bigger problem than he anticipates. My concerns are that it would neglect many significant areas and voices, so it wouldn’t reflect the larger demographic as well as it should. Admittedly, the current council system isn’t perfect but if we have the opportunity to reform, we should at least encompass true representation. To put it simply, what’s the point in reform otherwise?
I would also like to pick up on one particular thing Max said: local government work should be “done in line with the government’s agenda”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as a supporter of the opposition, I am largely against this statement. Obviously, councils should not directly oppose or act against the government’s agenda. However, they should place a greater focus on the issues affecting their citizens. The irony is that politicising them would have the complete opposite effect to Max’s suggestion that councils move away from politics.
Ultimately, there is a problem with the current local council system. But neglecting representation and encouraging politicisation is not an adequate solution. The key factors to consider are the economy, opportunity for scrutiny, and representation. In my opinion, the current suggested measures do not encompass all three sufficiently. Max will probably disagree with this but, for me, ineffective reform is no better than no reform.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo