The New CLG Ministerial Team Must Deliver for Local Government

The Government reshuffle has led to an almost complete new ministerial team at Communities and Local Government though Eric Pickles remains Secretary of State. The Department has a major role to play in terms of the Government's re-launched policy agenda - not least in terms of planning reform.

The Government reshuffle has led to an almost complete new ministerial team at Communities and Local Government though Eric Pickles remains Secretary of State.

The Department has a major role to play in terms of the Government's re-launched policy agenda - not least in terms of planning reform.

There is still much unfinished business from before the reshuffle.

These changes made me wonder what I would expect / hope from this new ministerial team if I were a local authority leader.

It would be possible to compile a very long list of demands and requests. And it would be oh, so tempting to propose that the Government changes its overarching macro-economic policy and many of its reforms such as those in police, education and the NHS. However, pragmatism prevailed - and so I decided that it would be be more realistic to go with the grain. So here are my five key suggestions to the new ministerial team:

1.It would be fantastic and raise the morale and status of local government across England if you were to talk up the role, democratic legitimacy, and the service and efficiency record of local government. In particular, please stress the community leadership and place-shaping role of local government led by elected councillors or mayors. In turn, this would enable local government to serve its communities and influence the wider local public sector to deliver better outcomes

Supplementary to this I urge you to promote the role of councillors - the true community leaders or to use your predecessor's preferred language 'community organisers' - and to do so irrespective of their political label

2.It is critical that CLG's commitment to localism and to the role of local government is shared and mirrored across Whitehall. The fact is that it most certainly is not currently. If CLG does not champion local government across Government - who will? This means all departments being ready and willing to develop their policies and their implementation in partnership with local government. It also means them consistently sending the same message to the local public agencies which they sponsor.

3.Local government had a very poor and disproportionately severe financial settlement following the last Spending Review. It is vital for the maintenance of core services that this is not repeated in the forthcoming Spending Review. Local government has regularly demonstrated that it is one of, if not 'the' most efficient part of the public sector.

Whilst it would be tempting to undertake real comprehensive review of local government finance and the balance between central and local funding, this is complex and very challenging so I would urge you in the short term to be driven by the following objective: local authorities being allowed to raise more of their own revenue and determine how their budgets are spent.

Any future financial settlement also has to address social care funding - and whether Dilnot is implemented or not, more money is essential and urgently required. You must ensure that your colleagues in the Treasury and Department of Health recognise and respond to this urgent financial pressure.

4.The Government's stated new priority is economic growth. Local government has and can play a key role in creating the conditions for local growth. You have to ensure that all your colleagues across government understand this and are ready to devolve powers and resource to local authorities.

The City Deal initiative was a great start but could go so much further, both in terms of what is devolved and the areas of the country that can participate.

And in considering reform of the planning system, please give no credence to the myth that the only reason that there is no development is 'dithering' local authorities. Local authorities can work with local stakeholders, including businesses, to promote and facilitate development. They also have duty and responsibility to represent local views and to protect the local environment. Local government is able to balance these responsibilities and will do so more effectively without central direction. And do remember, as your Secretary of State says, "it is all about localism, localism and localism".

One way of stimulating growth and tackling one of the country's greatest social challenges would be to support and fund local authorities to build new social housing and to partner and support local developers and housing associations to the same

5.My final suggestion is to implement the logical conclusion of 'Community Budgeting' and the former Government's 'Total Place programme universally. This will involve devolving local control and influence over a significant part of the total public expenditure spent in a local authority area with local democratic accountability for the expenditure and outcomes it delivers.

Both this Government and the former Labour Government acknowledged the power, and financial and well-being benefits of this approach. To date, however, your Department and the wider Government has been slow to enact change. This could and more significantly 'should' be your legacy.

A Government that respects local government and is willing to share and cede power will be a truly radical government - and a government that should, in turn, expect local authorities to share and cede power to local communities and the voluntary and community sectors. Experience tells us that leadership by example will achieve far more than central direction and dictates.

As the new ministerial team at CLG, you have a real opportunity to make a difference and to translate political rhetoric into reality - to achieve a genuine and sustainable transfer of power and resources from Whitehall to Town Hall and on to community centre.

I wish you well and I know that all of local government will be hoping that you succeed on the kind of agenda that I have set out in these five points. I am confident that their pursuit will lead to better outcomes and a real shift in power from Whitehall to localities.

It would be fantastic if you were to win the respect of local government and be seen as the team that renewed local democracy in England.


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