Just a couple weeks ago, there was the very real prospect that the local government finance settlement could have failed to pass a parliamentary vote in the House of Commons this week.
This could have plunged councils and Whitehall into uncharted territory, but that scenario has been averted as a result of the £600m recently announced by government.
But we should not underestimate how important the risk that MPs could have blocked the settlement was in securing this 11th hour investment.
Over the last three months, the County Councils’ Network (CCN) and Local Government Association (LGA) laid out the evidence on the dire financial state facing councils.
Thanks to the sector’s efforts, and in particular talks between the CCN chairman, the chancellor and the levelling-up secretary, we convinced them both of the clear need to intervene.
But No10 needed something extra to focus their mind. The last roll of the dice was lobbying MPs ahead of the vote on the settlement.
If you had told me before Christmas CCN would secure 46 signatures (44 from the governing party) to the County All Party Parliamentary Group letter I would have said you were mad – our target was 28, but I was sceptical we would even make achieve this.
Years of experience in national lobbying has taught me that (most) MPs rarely show interest in local government beyond their postbag (unless it’s planning reform). This time, we had robust evidence to support our cause and a parliamentarian (and county leader) in Cllr Ben Bradley who went the extra mile in securing signatures to our letter. This built on a targeted and focused campaign, supported brilliantly by CCN leaders engaging their local MPs.
Whether MPs really would have voted the settlement down, we will never know. But the letter was undoubtedly the tipping point in the negotiations.
Of course, the funding secured is in no way a silver bullet, it eases the pain for councils; it does not eradicate it. Service reductions and council tax rises of 5% are still required. But as I said to many people after the announcement, ‘that’s £600m the sector didn’t have yesterday’.
James Maker is director of policy and communications at the CCN
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