I believe passionately in local government. We have many, many good councillors and officers, who are all seeking to do the best for their communities.
I have, like all of you, seen first-hand the good that local government can do. Because who could be better at providing for their local areas than the people who live and work in them? We provide places where people can be safe and warm. We help equip them with the skills they need. We create vibrant economies. We support the most vulnerable. We collect the bins, maintain the parks, run the libraries, fix potholes and shape our communities.
We have continued to do all this during one of the most challenging times for councils. In the last decade councils have lost 60 pence out of every £1 of central government funding. Meanwhile, the number of new child protection investigations has doubled, homelessness has risen 56 per cent, over-85s have increased 31 per cent, and we are expected to deliver 300,000 new homes annually.
“One-third of councils fear they will run out of money for statutory services by the end of this Parliament
Our latest research shows that one-third of councils fear they will run out of money for statutory services by the end of this Parliament (assuming it lasts to 2022).
Yet councils up and down the country continue to do their best to deliver, day after day, for our residents. And this rightly makes me proud to be part of local government, and to be representing all of you who do such a fantastic job.
But councils could do much more if only the powers and funding are devolved to them. To this end, the LGA has launched our ‘Councils Can’ report, which sets out our key asks for the coming year. It is a call to arms aimed at delivering the very best for local government.
Because no national government can do without us. With Whitehall absorbed with Brexit, councils should be given the responsibility and funding to address long-standing challenges and maximise opportunities.
My key ask for the next government will be – give us the powers, freedoms, flexibilities and funding and we will deliver great communities.
We all agree that powers must be devolved beyond Whitehall, Cardiff Bay, Stormont and Holyrood and rest with local communities instead. That is why we are setting out a bold, positive case for a new localism settlement, underpinned by a Devolution Bill in the next Queen’s Speech – a Bill to reignite devolution and empower councils to deliver for their places.
Councils also need more freedoms and flexibilities on locally-raised taxes and fees.Residents should be given the choice: if they want to pay more for extra services, why can’t they? This means abolishing the council tax referendum limit, and allowing them to choose.
But it is not just about being able to set council tax rates or deliver the services we need, it is also about being able to generate locally-driven economic growth. So on business rates we want to see councils keep all of the income – not just the three-quarters planned from next year. This control over our areas’ economic destinies will be a key part of our campaigning in the months ahead.
Speaking of taking back control, Brexit gives us the chance for more local democracy. It is vital that powers are repatriated to the town hall not Whitehall. Local government must have a greater say on things like state aid, procurement processes and trading standards. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund must come to local government. And as we discuss what should replace the Common Agricultural Policy, rural communities must be a part of the conversation.
These measures will help reassure and prepare for our life outside the EU, helping revitalise our democracy.
While Brexit has featured prominently over the last three years, there is much more that needs to be done. The Government needs to ensure the Spending Review closes the enormous funding gap councils face; providing financial certainty and more investment will encourage innovation.
So, the next year will once again be crucial for us. Working together – councils, their communities and central government – can achieve so much. I really do think the sky is the limit for local government.
Councils can, but will government allow us to? With the Spending Review, we have an opportunity to work with government to ensure councils are properly funded in the years ahead.
We have shown time and again that money invested by local government is well spent.
My message to the new Prime Minister and his government is – trust us to deliver, and give us certainty through the right funding and powers.