Comment: We need a clearer vision for the future of local government


Cllr Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council

It has been refreshing and invigorating to see serious debate in the Labour movement about the long term future of local government in the wake of yet another disastrous settlement from Eric Pickles.

Labour local authorities have been beacons of hope for residents over the past two years, developing innovative solutions to the multiple crises we face and campaigning effectively against Government policy. However, we have now reached the point where effective local authorities aren’t enough – we need a clearer national vision for the future of local government, and urgently.

By now we all know the challenges; our budgets cut by a third over four years, predictions of continued cuts of 7% a year thereafter, changing demographics and a reduction of non-social care spending from over two thirds of our budget to just 10% by 2020. No matter how well we manage the cuts and prioritise key services, this will mean a significant reduction in the range and depth of services provided by local government.

As David Blunkett highlighted last week, this is the first time in living memory that the welfare state has shrunk at the same time as people are experiencing a serious fall in living standards. Residents will understandably begin to ask why they should still pay their Council Tax bill when the services they use most are disappearing. Turnout in local elections could fall even further and local democracy risks becoming unsustainable.

Labour Councils have resisted the siren calls this time round, and managed the cuts effectively and creatively. Many have become hothouses for innovative and effective policy solutions – a very positive sign. We have relentlessly focused resources on our priorities, we have protected service outcomes for residents rather than specific delivery methods, we are making the most of collective consumer action, we have shifted resources from treatment into prevention and we have begun experimenting with new ways of engaging with residents, including community budgets, which could help close the growing democratic deficit in local politics.

However, we now need a clearer national vision for the future of local government to match our local actions. A future Labour Government will have no choice but to take radical steps if we still want councils to exist in twenty years’ time.

The policy options are limited, but clear. We must either increase funding grants to local government, allow Councils to generate income from new sources or take away statutory obligations and give councils more freedom to decide which services to provide for their communities and how. The need for continued cuts after 2015 means that in reality the only option will be a balance between giving local authorities genuine control over their funding streams (unlike the Coalition’s failed attempts), revisiting statutory obligations and encouraging far greater involvement of local people in the design and implementation of local services.

Each of these options will require a far greater level of devolution of power and trust to both local authorities, and local people – an idea we have not always been comfortable with as a party.

But we need to know that the party will take these radical steps, and we need to know soon. We need to know because it will affect the spending decisions we are taking now for the next few years, we need to know as it will be a central pillar of our campaigning up to next year’s local elections and we need to know in order to give hope to all those who believe local government is a fundamental and irreplaceable part of our democracy.

 

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  • LB

    The problem is that at least 5,300 bn for the state pensions has been hidden off the books.

    Give the state spends 700 bn a year, and taxes 550 bn a year, you’ve got to face up to the mess.

    You’ve basically spent people’s retirement money.

    When they found out the true extent of the theft, I suspect a few politicians will be lynched.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.calderbank.9 Michael Calderbank

    Who needs “continued cuts after 2015″? Certainly not the people of Brent. Accepting this means accepting that ordinary working people have to pay the price of a financial crisis they didn’t create. I suppose that Brent Town Hall is a “hothouse for innovative and effective policy solutions” like the closure of half our libraries was the next phase in their “exciting transformation”? The reality is that Labour councils are letting themselves become the hapless accomplices of Tory plans for the mass cull of public service and the creation of new avenues for private capital to move in. ” Residents will understandably begin to ask why they should still pay
    their Council Tax bill when the services they use most are disappearing.” Yes, and they will also start asking what is the point of elections and elected councillors when their representatives are either unwilling or unable to represent their interests.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.calderbank.9 Michael Calderbank

    Who needs “continued cuts after 2015″? Certainly not the people of Brent. Accepting this means accepting that ordinary working people have to pay the price of a financial crisis they didn’t create. I suppose that Brent Town Hall is a “hothouse for innovative and effective policy solutions” like the closure of half our libraries was the next phase in their “exciting transformation”? The reality is that Labour councils are letting themselves become the hapless accomplices of Tory plans for the mass cull of public service and the creation of new avenues for private capital to move in. ” Residents will understandably begin to ask why they should still pay
    their Council Tax bill when the services they use most are disappearing.” Yes, and they will also start asking what is the point of elections and elected councillors when their representatives are either unwilling or unable to represent their interests.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.calderbank.9 Michael Calderbank

    Who needs “continued cuts after 2015″? Certainly not the people of Brent. Accepting this means accepting that ordinary working people have to pay the price of a financial crisis they didn’t create. I suppose that Brent Town Hall is a “hothouse for innovative and effective policy solutions” like the closure of half our libraries was the next phase in their “exciting transformation”? The reality is that Labour councils are letting themselves become the hapless accomplices of Tory plans for the mass cull of public service and the creation of new avenues for private capital to move in. ” Residents will understandably begin to ask why they should still pay
    their Council Tax bill when the services they use most are disappearing.” Yes, and they will also start asking what is the point of elections and elected councillors when their representatives are either unwilling or unable to represent their interests.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.crowder2 Jim Crowder

    Nice article; so what is your idea for the future of local government? What should it do, how should we pay for it, how can it be accountable, and how will it serve democracy?

    I think the biggest problem is the grant from central government. It is vastly larger than the amounts raised from council tax, leaving aside the fact that many do not pay even 25% of their council tax bill. This means that the money spent does not come directly from the voters. What about business rates?

    There are people who vote who do not pay council tax and can influence council spending towards them. Is this democratic? I am not offering answers, but would like to see some suggestions as I believe this is a major issue for the future.

  • Newsbot9

    Er? Councils can’t magic up cash. They can’t tell MP’s where to get off…

  • Newsbot9

    Ah yes, so you want to make voting a qualified franchise based on property criteria again.

    And no, it’s not a problem that tax revenue is passed back to councils….the alternative even for basic services for massive rises council tax which would drive the poor out of living in housing…

  • Newsbot9

    It’s on the books, of course. Keep lying.

    And yes, you’ve caused a mess, you’re to blame. You’re a thief, and it’s nit surprise you’re trying to get front men, preferably someone else’s, killed rather than back down from stealing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.crowder2 Jim Crowder

    Not my suggestion, but if you think it’s important, you should propose it.

    My point about central tax revenues was that it made it very difficult for local government to be accountable to local people if the purse strings were held be central government.

    My points were observations, yours seem to be proposals.

  • LB

    Off the books.

    Send us a link where the state pension is in the accounts, so we can see what’s owed.

  • Newsbot9

    If they’re not in the accounts, how do you know the total? Because you’ve posted it repeatedly. Hence, they’re on the books by your own posts admission.

    They’re largely paid from current tax revenue, which is not the same as off the books.

  • Newsbot9

    So what WAS the suggestion for action? Again, people can’t afford a massive tax rise to allow “localism”.

    And yes, I don’t tend to deal in hypotheticals.

  • LB

    No.

    The accounts explicitly exudes the pensions.

    The figure for the debts for the pensions comes from the ONS, which estimated the debt, if they were on the books.

    http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171766_263808.pdf

    Earlier ONS articles have discussed the broader public sector ‘balance sheet’ – including public sector assets, liabilities and obligations which are not normally included within core Public Sector Finances statistics.

    That shows that the pension liabilities are off the books.

    In summary, the estimates in the new supplementary table indicate a total Government pension obligation, at the end of December 2010, of £5.01 trillion, or 342 per cent of GDP, of which around £4.7 trillion relates to unfunded obligations.

    That’s shows that the out of date (currently around 5.3 trillion) figure for the pensions debt is larger.

    The total reported debt, is 1.1 trillion. That’s what is admitted too, and its the size of Gilts in issuance.

    http://www.dmo.gov.uk/index.aspx, but you have to add up the numbers. They don’t make it easy to get that number.

    So where is your number for the pensions debt. A breakdown of debt into borrowing and pensions etc, from the treasury, or the National Audit office, or some other government department publishing the accounts.

    Good luck.

  • Newsbot9

    Either you know it, and it’s known, or you don’t and it isn’t. You’re trying to be a quantum state, but I’m observing your figures.

    The figures are right there, you’ve admitted it, Unfunded | Off the books. Thanks for surrendering your position then posting nonsense.

  • LB

    Can you not read.

    ONS – Pensions Off the Books. Opening statement.

    ONS – IF the pensions were on the books, that’s another 5.3 trillion (as of now).

    What you will never do is post the number. You can prove me wrong by providing a link with the debts, pensions included.

    Good luck trying.

    Bad luck for all the victims of the fraud. The state has stolen their cash.

  • Newsbot9

    I can read, unfortunately for you. You have provided a link showing it, I’m not going to post your own links back to you!

    You keep claiming to be the state. You’re simply anti-pension, and anti-British, foreigner. Serious criminals like you…

    (There is, of course, no reference to “books” in the links you posted, you’re making up things again, fraudster)

  • LB

    Earlier ONS articles have discussed the broader public sector ‘balance sheet’

    Just what do you think the balance sheet is?

  • Newsbot9

    I know, and I’m not responsible for educating you.

  • LB

    You’re not demonstrating much knowledge.

    The balance sheet is where the debts and the assets are listed.

    So the ONS link is all about the debts and the assets, and clearly states that the pensions aren’t on the balance sheet.

    They aren’t on the books.

    So, come on, where’s the number for the pension debts. You’re not putting any evidence up.

  • Newsbot9

    You’ve stated it repeatedly, so your argument is naturally invalid. Or you’re a liar, which is it?

    You used the word “book”, of course, you’re changing your tune. Moreover, simply because it’s not on a balance sheet looking at someone else is not a surprise…I’d expect a crook like you to know your crooked accounting better, go figure.

    And I don’t need to give “evidence” about well known figures. The unfunded state pension liability (not debt) of the UK is, of course, under the EU average.

    But facts, you don’t need them.

  • LB

    On the books, means in the accounts. Included in the balance sheet.

    It’s books, plural.

    ==============
    The unfunded state pension liability (not debt) of the UK is, of course, under the EU average.

    ==============

    Getting a bit closer, at least you are now admitting they have taken cash, and owe people a pension, 102, linked to inflation etc.

    Now how much do they owe?

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