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.


As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.

We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.

21 Responses to “Comment: We need a clearer vision for the future of local government”

  1. Newsbot9

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

  2. 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…

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. LB

    Off the books.

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

Comments are closed.