Anthony Zacharzewski, Chief Executive of Demsoc, wonders what exactly ‘local’ will mean 30 years from now.
Speculating on local government in 2043 feels like asking a sailor caught in a storm whether she’d rather land at Portsmouth or at Penzance. “Who cares where, as long as we make it.”
This storm may calm, but the destination of local government 2043 will depend on a different tide – the effect of technology-driven social change on local democracy.
Health advances hold out the prospect of longer lives, but greater time spent in ill-health – meaning councils will be serving communities with higher needs, and where those with the higher needs have a stronger propensity to vote.
By 2050, the share of the population over 65 will be nine percentage points higher than it was in 2000. Factor in declining enthusiasm for party politics among the young, and representative local democracy starts to look pretty unrepresentative.
What will 2043’s new voters understand by “local” anyway? Work and socialising will be something that happens online, across boundaries of place, as readily as down the road. That might support local participation, by reinforcing the value of local presence, and softening the boundaries of nation-states to the benefit of super-cities. It might make the local council seem as irrelevant as the Lords Lieutenant.
Strong future communities will need to show people that local participation contributes to international goals, as well as street corner ones, and that people can create a place in the world by supporting their localities.
The present is governed by a tyranny of the past – which makes us the tyrants of 2043 – we can’t wait for change to come to us. Local government may feel like a small ship lost in a big storm – but that is just the time when good seamanship matters most.
 From 15.6 to 24.3 between 2000 and 2050 (Government Actuaries’ Dept)