Comment: Local government must stand up for itself before it’s too late

Local councillors, harangued or forgotten as they so often are, are in many cases the finest public servants we have


Last week David Cameron wrote to his local council to complain about cuts his own government had demanded. Yes, really.

It says a lot when the cause for the prime minister’s embarrassment is a leaked letter from the leader of a flagship Tory council. It is almost as though Cllr Hudspeth simply could not conceal his ire at the leader of his party complaining about cuts to frontline services and referring to a drop in funding of £72m (37 per cent) as a ‘slight fall’.

As angry as I’m sure Cllr Hudspeth was, this was far more infuriating for someone like me: a councillor in Labour-run Brent. For, as Hillary Benn pointed out in 2014, councils in poorer areas have been suffering even deeper and harsher cuts than those in richer areas. Quelle Surprise – most of the poorer councils are Labour ones, too.  

You would be forgiven for assuming that what I am writing here is purely a partisan attack. But it isn’t. Away from Brent, I act as an intermediary between local councils, communities and homebuilders. This means that I regularly talk to councillors of all political hues. And they are by and large united in their fears for the future of local government.

The truth is that local government has been taking a pounding from central government for decades. When Labour was last in power, there was, as everyone knows, far more money moving around the system. Therefore the dialectic that existed between central and local government was less noticeable. But the structural flaws were in place nonetheless.  

So something has to change before it is too late. Before councils which have already had more than a third of their funding wiped out have half of it taken away, and then even more. Imagine a horrific choice like whether to support the homelessness grant or 30-minute care visits not being a choice at all because both were instead removed. That’s the bleak reality we will face by 2020 if things continue as they are.

What is needed is a proper, coordinated response from local authorities across the country. The Local Government Association has simply not done enough to lobby on behalf of local government. Nor are isolated councils attempting to pass illegal budgets the solution to the problem. Such a tactic is like the charge of the light brigade and it is time that local government outmaneuvered the lumbering Westminster war machine.

So I hope that when the visionary Cllr Jim McMahon is elected as the MP for Oldham West and Royton, he speaks truth to power and takes the concerns of local authorities right to the heart of government. If he will lead the fightback, he will have an army of councillors behind him.

It would be beneficial to the Labour Party, too, if Tom Watson’s warm and welcomed words about how Labour councillors are often undervalued by the party machinery were echoed by others. Labour has thousands of elected politicians all over the country. With Labour out of power in Westminster until at least 2020, it would be wise to deploy us in the frontline.  

I love local government for its power to do as much, if not more, good than the talking shop that is parliament can. Local councillors, harangued or forgotten as they so often are, are in many cases the finest public servants we have.

It is councillors who arrange for streetlamps to be fixed to make frightened pensioners feel safer, for littered and dirty streets to be cleaned up and for rogue landlords to be brought to justice. Without them, this would be a meaner and a harsher country than it already is.

A new member of the Labour Party recently told me with relish that she was going to take my seat on Brent Council. In the context of local government’s perilous future, I wonder whether that seat I fought so hard to win will even exist by 2018. I hope for her sake that it does.

Sam Stopp is a Labour councillor in the London Borough of Brent and is the chair of The Labour Campaign to End Homelessness

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9 Responses to “Comment: Local government must stand up for itself before it’s too late”


    The problem is that people who use council services take them for granted and when asked if they want to pay more when the service is threatened will say they pay enough already. Any party proposing to raise council tax will probably lose because people are basically greedy and want something for nothing.The Tories and the SNP have frozen the council tax. Labour also did this in Scotland. So it is not just the Tories to blame it is an all party issue. We have created a total greed culture since the sixties.

  2. Bradley EC

    Exactly. Autumn Statement 2015 – the day local government died. The effects of Autumn Statement will be much worse than tax credit pains.

  3. blarg1987

    Very true, people do not notice what is in front of them, they moan their quiet little cul-de-sac has not been resurfaced in 20 years, while driving along a newly resurfaced road to get tot he local shops that take thousands of vehicles daily.

    People need to be educated and take more responsibility for voting for parties who do not provide services when they prefer tax cuts or freezes.

    I concede their is also some waste, however what does not help is when so called “waste” is actually peanuts and provide providers jump ship when they realise their is no waste in provision of state services and so can;t make a profit.

  4. Alex Gallagher

    Labour didn’t do it in Scotland. The SNP/Tory coalition did it.


    My apologies I should have said in Glasgow. That gave the SNP an excuse, ‘well Labour did it first’.

  6. Alex Gallagher

    Big difference between a local authority deciding its finances allow a temporary tax “holiday” and government demanding a permanent freeze whether it suits any/all LAs.

    And not funding the freeze……criminal.


    Alex. The rich in Scotland are getting richer as the rich in general do not suffer much during a recession. The poorer are paying the penalty with reduced services when they need them most. Giving tax handouts to the wealthy and indeed the not so wealthy in such times is wrong. The insistance of the Liberals to raise the threshold has taken millions out of the exchequer which could have funded local government.

  8. Scott B

    The other week Cristiano Ronaldo won the golden boot and gave a pretty funny interview where he reiterated repeatedly that he was the best footballer in the world. Whilst to some he may have seemed egotistical and grandiose, in the context of this being his 4th Golden boot and playing for some of the best football teams in the world there’s some justification. When a local councillor calls Local councillors, the “finest public servants we have” you have to wonder if this level of egotism is part of the reason politicians treat the public with contempt? These cuts were both conservative and Labour policy as both voted for them earlier in the year in parliament and have chosen to implement them without even a sign of objection. It’s not surprising ordinary members of the Labour Party are threatening to take the seats of their elected representatives such as the author of the above.

  9. David Whitaker

    I think it will be longer than 2020 that we will be out of power. I say 2025 at least I regret to say.

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