Taking the Lib Dem local government pulse

A Chatham House event with councillors from 13 Liberal Democrat councils.  The question we put: with a 30% contraction in local government spending over the next five years (likely according to latest figures from PWC, and Vince Cable’s analysis) what are you going to stop doing (the savage C word) what are you going to do fundamentally differently, and what are you determined to keep doing come hell or high water.    Some councils are standing by ideology, particularly around direct public provision: one for example said that council housing is non negotiable.  The majority were very pragmatic, they will make choices according to ‘what works’.   In Teignbridge, for example, they have recently taken some services back in house, not driven by ideology, but because they believe they can improve it and save money.   Richard Kemp summed up the debate with an interesting analysis of the relationship between local government and the rest of the public sector, business and the third sector.  We have come to be cynical, expecting much less of each other than we should, and must, if we are to meet the challenges ahead.  All in all very interesting.  And one thing they could agree on, when I asked “it’s going to be tough, but do you want the ball?” they emphatically said yes.  I’m looking forward to hearing from councillors of other parties in the weeks to come.

    1. Matt Bryant says:

      Sounds like a really interesting discussion, and look forward to seeing what the feeling is among councillors from other parties.

      I’ve always believed that, whatever our differences in the chamber (and believe me I have many with my Tory counterparts!), councillors from all parties are united in their passion for their local community, and want to do the best job they can for the people they represent. Consequently we all get frustrated when external factors – be it central government or the economic situation – get in the way.

      But there’s two ways to respond to it – bury your head in your hands and think “it’s all awful,” halting all projects and non-essential services, blaming it on the government or the lack of money (or both). Or, and this is why I’m encouraged by your report of the dinner in Bournemouth, look at some really creative ways to improve services despite less resources.

      I was in a meeting with a senior civil servant recently who said (although I think driven out of self interest!) that having less money actually forces individuals and organisations to be more innovative. While the money’s flowing in, there’s not much incentive to innovate, as you know things are going to happen anyway. But when the going gets tough, it’s easy to see where the real local government leaders exist.

      So, with a little bit of help and surrender of control from central government, whilst the outlook may be a bit gloomy in the short term, I’m actually optimistic that the long-term impact of the purse-string-tightening will be good for local government, and good for communities.

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