As The MJ goes to press, we are yet to hear the results of the chancellor’s Spending Review, but speculation on the content has filled many a column inch over the past days.
The single year review is not what local government finance experts would have wished for – and it is unlikely we will see any great reprieve for councils teetering on the edge of the fiscal cliff – but there is plenty more to occupy local government.
A plan to re-write the Green Book is a fiscal reform that has long been called for. The Government’s commitment to levelling up needs to start with a financial strategy that doesn’t judge the North as a second class investment.
Infrastructure, green investment and a shift of civil servants out to the regions may all look like a Government well on the way to levelling up the country. The Prime Minister’s speech to Scottish Conservatives at the weekend, reiterating his commitment to devolution, calling for powers to be handed down to councils and communities, all bodes well for local government.
Or does it? When it comes to local government, the Government seems remarkably adept at cognitive dissonance. For all the warm words, Boris Johnson seems utterly unable to practice what he preaches and hand powers down to councils himself.
A leaked slide from the Department of Health and Social Care’s Test and Trace service last week showed it was keen to ‘reset’ its relationship with local government. Again. At least it knows there is an issue.
Despite all central Government’s platitudes on devolution and localism, all the Thursday claps for carers and reset relationships, some actions speak volumes.
At the time of writing we await the details of a public sector pay freeze. Workers who battled the pandemic on the frontline, providing care, emptying bins, protecting communities – risking their own health – are expected to be told they don’t deserve a pay rise while those on the healthcare frontline do.
We face a faltering economy, crippling national debt, inevitable tax rises and the uncertainty of Brexit ahead. Savings need to be made – but not on thanking frontline staff. When local government makes its own pay settlement, that is a tough choice it will have to make.