Forget the charm, local government needs certainty

By Heather Jameson | 16 September 2020
  • Heather Jameson

Governments of all colours are frequently accused of fiscal gerrymandering – re-writing the rules of the grants game to funnel cash back into the hands of their own. And while there is no shortage of suggestions that the current political crop have been guilty of the odd fund for friends, it seems they also have a knack of hitting out at their own – hard.

Even the most loyal Conservative district councillors are starting to balk at the battering. Increased housing numbers – which privately ministers are rapidly back-tracking on – and changes to planning rules that all ride roughshod over local autonomy.

There has been an ongoing uncertainty with a ‘will-they, won’t they’ approach to funding involving ministers dithering over financial decisions on everything from COVID costs, to lost fees and charges and investment income. Now it is the cost of policing lockdown, with confusion over funding for COVID marshals descending into farce, and still no clarity on the shared prosperity fund.

The biggest kick has been reorganisation – threating the very existence of their own councillors.

Last week we reported reorganisation was on the ropes, holed up in Number 10 and floundering. Now it appears the whole Local Recovery and Devolution White Paper is unlikely to see the light of day this year.

There is a deep irony in a devolution White Paper that has been thwarted by Number 10 – a Downing Street regime that has taken its command and control, centralist approach to dizzying new heights. So when can we expect the White Paper now?

About the same time as the social care White Paper, fair funding review, business rates retention scheme, the shared prosperity fund consultation…the list goes on.

Simon Clarke’s resignation as local government minister gives his boss Robert Jenrick an opportunity to re-write his relationship with the sector and get the White Paper back on track – with or without reorganisation – and get on with the ‘things to do’ list.

Could Boris Johnson’s surprise appearance on a local government call this week be the start of a charm offensive?

Forget the charm, a decent finance settlement and devolution deal will do the trick.

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Social Care Housing Devolution Reorganisation Funding Robert Jenrick
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