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Councils need to reform, not bemoan their lack of money

26 June 2013

We know that local government is looking at a 10% reduction in today’s Spending Review. So the traditional game played by some councils of bemoaning the lack of money is even more pointless than usual. It’s now down to us as local authorities to behave differently when it comes to delivering services, and that covers everything from social finance schemes to early intervention on troubled families.

The government has done much in recent years to drive forward public service reform, but today will make it still clearer that we can’t take our foot off the gas. There is now a golden opportunity for town halls to work closer with Whitehall to drive forward further reform, including making quicker progress on setting local areas free to drive value for money in public services and unleash our potential for economic growth. That’s why my own council and our Tri-borough partners will be seizing the chance to launch a new wave of public services that will make housing more affordable, boost jobs and growth, and tackle the long-term problems of benefit dependency and fraud against our welfare system.

If you are one of the authorities who gains from the announcements we have been led to expect on roads and housing, then that’s great. But it is clear that in the long-term, centrally allocating money from Whitehall isn’t the best way to kick-start local schemes. Councils have the local knowledge and the expertise to make public money work far harder for local economies than it can through centrally delivered projects. Freeing up restrictions and allowing councils to borrow against their assets is key to building more houses, getting more people into work, saving money and delivering better public services. The chancellor has an opportunity in today’s Spending Review to do exactly this, but he needs to be radical and not let the opportunity slip.

The government also needs to make sure, today and in the coming months, that the most progressive authorities can benefit fully from the ‘single pot’ proposed by Lord Heseltine, making it as deep and wide as possible in the funding that goes into it from across Whitehall and ensuring that it heralds a genuinely new way of doing things, not just a one-off pot of money. In the longer term, the independent London Finance Commission chaired by Professor Tony Travers, which published its report in May, was a timely reminder that cities including London will need to be able to control their own financial destiny in order to invest in growth and achieve maximum value with public money. As a whole, London is home to 13 per cent of the population but generates 18.5 per cent of the national tax take, largely driven by the West End and Central London: freeing up successful local authorities to reinvest some of the local proceeds of growth has clear benefits for the whole country.

Whether sharing services, as with the successful Tri-borough initiative, or coming together to negotiate ‘City Deals’, collaboration will be ever more crucial to local authorities going forward. This will require political maturity and cross-party working, and Westminster is playing a leading role in ensuring that the different levels of London government invest time, resources and political capital in working together to take forward new opportunities.

Philippa Roe is the leader of Westminster Council

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Show comments
  • Daniel Maris

    …says the woman from probably the richest local authority in the country.

  • swatnan

    Lets have those Super Unitaries, and joined up Local Govt and sharing services now.
    We’ve been talking about it for 20 years and still no progress. And give the go ahead for Regional Govt now.

  • global city

    They are trapped in the moral hazzard of viewing unchecked departmental spend as an essential element of ‘redistribution’.

    This attitude has helped to exacerbate the poverty of many areas, which then need more ‘public investment’ and ‘support/subsidy’ from the public purse which makes the choke hold that much worse. It also distracts from focusing on what could help an area generate the wealth needed in order to eradicate what ever economic problems afflict an area.

  • Tom M

    I watched a C4, I think it was, exposure of the profligacy of local authorities’ managers recently. At the end of the programme Eric Pickles was asked to offer his solution to stop this. He said that this was up to the local people using their voting power to put an end to these practices. Whilst I rather like Eric Pickles’ business like approach to local government, in this matter I think he is being disingenuous. If the local voters knew of the profiigacies of the town hall then I’m sure they would take some sort of action. The problem is none of the details of this expenditure is available short of a freedom of infromation request. How about some transparency here? Put the detailed accounts in the public domain.

    • Andy

      Local Councils are set up to waste money and are run by idiots.
      My local council has decided you have to have a permit to use the local tip. So, you had to take Council Tax bill and driving licence to a tip to have said permit issued. To do this each tip has had to have a portacabin to use as an office. The guy issuing the permit was taken off the tip staff to do this, so that meant he had to be replaced. As he remarked ‘Why couldn’t they just send this out with the Council Tax bill ?’ A not unintelligent question. Reason is no one thought this out and what should have been a very simple thing has turned into another way to spend money. You give up.

      • John Lea

        What you have to understand is that all councils are run – and also staffed by – idiots. The sort of people who drank and puffed their way through university (and by university, I mean some glorified polytechnic), before emerging with a 2.2 in Sociology or ‘Women’s Studies’ or some equally pointless crap. They wouldn’t find work in the private sector. Is it any surprise therefore to find that they couldn’t organise the proverbial piss up…?

        • Andy

          Yes I suppose you are right. It merely highlights the dangers of Dope Smoking, excessive drinking and polytechnics.

    • John Lea

      Totally agree – it was a shameful response from Pickles. We, the great unwashed, are apparently responsible for eradicating local government corruption via the ballot box…assuming we have the time to investigate and expose it on a national TV channel.

  • dalai guevara

    ‘As a whole, London is home to 13 per cent of the population but generates 18.5 per cent of the national tax take’

    This kind of data is a shot in the foot for those who believe centralisation was the answer.
    Do US American figures back up that this was a good thing?
    Do German figures confirm that centralisation was desirable?
    Does Japan prove that the concentration and centralisation game was the game to play?

    The day the above figures are inverted is the day I will believe that there was no centre/periphery divide, London wasn’t a different country, African-style income disparity didn’t exist. But hey, we like what the Czech Republic is doing – Prague firmly in the First World whilst a butty 20 miles out of town is 8p. Issues of a developing world…

  • Darnell Jackson

    Ace…….more borrowing.

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