Cllr Paul Carter, Leader of Kent County Council reflects that whatever the changes in 30 years time, the role of the democratically elected council will remain pivotal in meeting the needs of local communities.
To look 30 years ahead and predict what a local council might look like in 2043, I start by thinking back to 1983 and the changes we’ve seen across the sector in the last 30 years.
Whilst some things have changed significantly, with a far more open and competitive market for local authority services significantly improving efficiency, and the way councils engage and deliver services to residents transformed through the use of ICT and the internet, the fundamental role and purpose of a local council hasn’t really changed at all.
The provision of local public services, meeting the needs of both the community as a whole and the most vulnerable members of our communities will still be what the local council is for.
Fundamentally, there is no better vehicle that allows the level of efficiency, flexibility and responsiveness in the delivery of local public services than a local council. Victorians understood this in the late 19th century, and I don’t think that will change by the mid-21st century.
Yes, there may be restructures and reconfigurations. Two-tier local government may go, or it may not. Services will be designed and redesigned and, possibly, redesigned again to meet ever changing needs. The continued importance of technology will drive more changes in the relationship between the citizen and the council, beyond what any of us can realistically predict.
We will have shifted the balance of health and social care spending from the acute sector and into excellent community health and primary care services, because we simply have no choice given the demographics, if we want to maintain some form of NHS and social care system.
Local authorities will still lead change because we must. As democratically elected bodies, we will always respond to local community needs, and make those difficult choices, better than Whitehall or faceless quangos.
If I have hope, it is this. That by 2043 the relationships between central and local government has matured beyond the fractured and disconnected engagement we have increasingly seen from Westminster and Whitehall since 1983.
This does not mean some form of faux constitutional protection for local authorities, but a mature adult relationship which allows local authorities to flourish without having their wings clipped.