These announcements will each have a huge impact on local councils and local communities. Together they represent unprecedented change in our public services and in the governance of Britain. The finance settlement will be very tough for councils and there is no doubt that some, if not all, will have to make major cuts in spending. At the same time the Localism Bill envisages a brave new world in which councils are free to lead their communities and citizens are free to challenge the council. We absolutely support this aim, but it’s important to be realistic and acknowledge the difficulties that must be faced.
Eric Pickles hails it as a revolution, but Britain is not a revolutionary nation. We will succeed more in the years ahead if local councils and citizens work in partnership – that means councils opening up the town hall, opening up the books, and being open to challenge. But it also means councils and councillors being supported in their vital role as community leaders and having the freedom to make local choices without central government straightjackets and interference.
It’s a shame that for all the very welcome measures, such as the General Power of Competence for councils, ending ringfencing and removing inspection, councils will be left puzzled by the centralist approach of some parts of the Localism Bill. Why for example is there a double standard by national politicians about referendums on taxation and spending, and why is the government trying to force the elected Mayor model on to cities. Why too has the government decided that Local Economic Partnerships can only be created on the say so of Whitehall officials, rather than because local people want them?
In terms of the settlement, it is welcome that the Secretary of State has moved to decrease the impact of frontloading the level of cuts, however the quick fix mechanism for damping down variations in council grants does appear to have created a real dog’s breakfast in which some councils will be left wondering whether they are receiving a fair allocation of funding. What is also clear is that even with the attempts to soften the impact, some councils are going to be facing much bigger cuts than others.”