Councils need more money and government needs councils to deliver its ambitions. Working together, councils can be a powerful ally to support government to deliver on its priorities.
But to do so, ministers must deliver a Queen’s Speech, Spending Review and reforms to policy that deliver the funding and powers councils need to make the changes that will transform our local areas.
So says the LGA’s ‘Councils can’ report, scheduled for launch at its annual conference in Bournemouth in early July.
The conference paper sets out what councils are: leaders of place that make a big difference every day to people’s lives. It highlights how councils have improved the lives of their residents, giving examples across the range of more than 800 services provided, from public health, food safety and transport, to adult social care, children’s services and waste.
It says councils can build the homes the nation needs, improve lives and save money by preventing ill-health, deliver brighter futures for all children, boost jobs and growth, create places where people want to live, support adults of all ages to live the lives they want to lead, and build cohesive communities. But they are being hampered by the centralisation of powers in Whitehall, dramatically shrinking resources and a lack of certainty about future funding.
With councils facing a funding gap of £8 billion by 2025, what they need is a new package that places the right power and funding with local communities in order to unlock better opportunities for the areas we live in.
This must include clarity on the continuation of key funding streams, the quantum of resources, the fair funding review and business rates retention, so councils can properly budget for the year ahead and don’t have to scale back on much valued and worthwhile services.
Key elements of the LGA’s proposed local settlement include:
- an English devolution bill, expanding devolution to areas outside the metropolitan combined authorities
- a local government finance bill, giving councils full local control over council tax and 100 per cent business rates retention
- an education and skills bill, allowing councils to build new schools and deliver employment and skills services locally
- an electoral bill providing protection for councillors and candidates from intimidation
- a domestic abuse bill focused on early intervention and preventative work
- a building safety bill implementing the Hackitt Review’s recommendations following the Grenfell Tower fire
- a Spending Review that addresses the funding gaps in key services, including: adult social care; children’s services; support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities; nurseries; road repairs; buses and concessionary fares; and public health funding
- policy changes including: publication of the long-delayed Social Care Green Paper; a reformed waste strategy; devolution of Right to Buy and other housing reforms; devolution of transport powers; and an updated air quality policy.
We know the country will look different when we leave the European Union, but Brexit cannot continue to be a distraction from the funding crisis that is pushing fragile local services closer to the edge.
In an uncertain time for this country, certainty for councils and their residents about what powers and resources they will have to support the Government to keep our communities running will become even more fundamental. Councils cannot continue to provide leadership in a system where resources are exhausted and powers and accountability are diffused.
Councils have proven that they are already leaders of place, but it defies logic to think that they can do their best work when they are under insurmountable financial pressure and against the backdrop of a system that is still so disjointed.
The success of the UK as a whole in its new relationship with global partners and competitors will rely on the ability of local leaders to encourage inclusive and sustainable growth in local economies, invest in the right infrastructure at the right time and help people and their families meet their full potential.
No-one else can deliver the changes this country needs. A new localism settlement, and the powers and funding to support it, is desperately needed to ensure that the UK is able to compete on a global stage.
The quality of the places we live in depends on our councils. They are the central cog in a machine that brings together all the elements we need to feel secure, safe and fulfilled. In turn, our councils must have mutual support from government to enable them to get on with the job.
Councils have put their offer on the table to government, the new Prime Minister and all our political parties. This is no longer about councils having to prove they can do more – it is now the Government’s turn to show it has listened, understood, and cares enough about the millions of people that rely on council services to take action.
It is time for the Government to match residents’ and their councils’ ambitions.