Not top-down reform – but beware the bottom-up push

By Heather Jameson | 15 December 2021
  • Heather Jameson

Once again we have hit the last issue of The MJ of the year – although we will still keep you up to date on the latest news and view on our website. And it has been quite a year – we have a full round-up here if you need a refresher.

Overshadowed by COVID from start to finish, 2021 has seen local government go to extraordinary efforts to protect communities for a second year running, amid a backdrop of uncertainty over policy and finance.

December has descended into its usual local government ritual of a last-minute finance settlement, while White Papers promised ‘before Christmas’ get shoved back into the new year; the levelling up White Paper is a case in point.

The leak of the draft White Paper last week sent the local government gossip circuit into a frenzy – albeit a frenzy of disbelief. Plans for full-scale reorganisation revealed by the Independent didn’t quite ring true, and best estimates guess it is a version dating back to the summer of 2020.

After the last round of reorganisations that gave us plans for Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset, most two-tier areas breathed a sigh and started working together at the prospect of a county deal.

But, however harmonious things are, reorganisation is never far away. We have 128 years of back issues of The MJ which prove that, whatever the structure, there is always someone desperate to tinker with the shape, size and responsibilities of councils.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has reassured councils there will be no top-down reorganisation. That doesn’t mean the push won’t continue with a carrot and a stick: councils financially encouraged to go for combined authorities, mayors and single-tier structures vs the stick of squeezed funding.

Rumour has it that the Treasury – that great bastion of financial incentives – is now busy re-writing the levelling up White Paper ready for its release in the new year. So, while we have ruled out top-down reorganisation, the prospect of forcing bottom-up reform remains.

But, as we close the year, local government can look back on 2021 – and 2020 – on a massive list of achievements; supporting the nation through COVID, planning for recovery and keeping frontline services going in a crisis.

See you all in 2022.

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Finance Devolution Reorganisation Finance Settlement Coronavirus DLUHC Levelling up
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