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A stark warning to ‘reset the system’ issued by the APSE Local Government Commission 2030

A stark warning to ‘reset the system’ issued by the APSE Local Government Commission 2030

The final report of the APSE Local Government Commission (ALGC) 2030, set up to explore what the next decade could hold for a revitalised local government, has issued a drastic warning to UK Governments to ‘reset the system’ to avoid local councils failing the communities they serve.

The ALGC 2030 received hundreds of pieces of evidence, including oral witness testimonies, during the course of its 18 months of work, and found that UK local government is facing its biggest economic, political and social challenges since the Second World War. Alongside multiple public policy crises in finance, adult care, housing and climate change, the Commissioners found that the system itself was hindered by a lack of powers and resources, and the centralisation of decision making, which mistrusts and obstructs local councils, and ignores their democratic legitimacy.

Speaking at the launch of the Commission’s final report ‘Local by Default’ Commission Chair, Paul O’Brien said, “The amplification of inequalities, exposed by the COVID-19 health pandemic, has served to bring forward the case for a system reset for local government. Evidence to the Commission, almost without exception, exposed frustration at a system which has, over a number of decades, relied upon the fanciful concept of all-seeing all-knowing central administrations.

O’Brien added, “And yet local government, with the right powers and resources, can be a force for good, bringing about positive change at a community level and be best placed to understand and deliver on local economic, environmental and social wellbeing for local areas. That is why we are calling for a fundamental reset to the system, including a new financial and constitutional settlement, for local government.”       

The detailed report sets out calls for a new relationship between central administrations across the UK with local government, challenging them to recognise that the levelling-up agenda cannot be delivered whilst local councils are forced to act as by-standers. The Commission warns the alternative, will be a continuation in communities who are disenfranchised by a system of local government, that is no longer fit for purpose. 

The theme of the report ‘Local by default’ suggests that powers and responsibilities sit with local government unless the evidence or a reasoned argument shows it to be wholly inappropriate. This is not to endorse a naïve localism but instead recognises that different policy issues and contemporary challenges are best resolved by different parts of government working in collaboration. To ensure this, local government must be assured of a new settlement, which enshrines its powers and responsibilities over local areas, with the right resources to deliver meaningful change.

The Commissioners recognised the binary opposition often drawn between the centre and the local, and advocates the move towards a mature relationship which clearly defines the roles and responsibilities between different spheres of government and accepts both as integral and equal parts of the system of governance.

The report finds that the absence of any clarity over the constitutional status of local government has contributed to a piecemeal and damaging juridification of centre-local relations, which it is argued means representative localism remains stilted and at the whim of ministers.

‘Local by Default’ makes 29 recommendations which centre upon:-  

  • A new relationship with local government
  • An alternative: The principle of local by default
  • Revitalising local government
  • The roles and powers of local government
  • A sustainable financial settlement for local government
  • Local democracy, representation and accountability
  • The local government workforce
  • Addressing inequalities and engaging communities

Amongst the 29 recommendations for a reset of the system the Commission calls for:-

  • ‘National Governance Committees’ across nations of the UK, which should be consulted for any law and policy-making processes that affect directly local government and devolved institutions (such as reforms and re-organisation).
  • In England, future structural reforms, mergers or reductions in scale are submitted to an independent and representative ‘Standing Commission’. This Standing Commission would make recommendations on proposals to central government.
  • The role and powers of local government should be enshrined in a constitutional settlement
  • A transition to a sustainable finance settlement during where government should agree a multi-year funding settlement with local government to ensure stability in the short term and an end to competitive bids for funds.
  • A guaranteed floor below which local government funding should not fall. One way in which this can be done is to guarantee local government a share of funding equivalent to a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) below which it cannot fall below.
  • A new sustainable financial settlement should ensure that every council has sufficient resources to exercise its roles and responsibilities and meet the needs of its communities.
  • Local scrutiny should be strengthened with formal recognition of local government, the locally elected body, as scrutineer of other agencies and services in a place, with formal rights to information and meaningful impact. This might take the form of Local Public Accounts Committees.
  • In line with the Public Sector Equality Duty to tackle discrimination, councils as public authorities should develop and report on local action plans to make strident and conscious efforts to ensure access to political office for people of all backgrounds.
  • The Commission calls for the creation of a national linked system of pay and conditions across the public sector, removing pay gaps between equivalent jobs in local government and other public services, in line with the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.
  • There should be better remuneration, training, and support for local councillors, as well as the introduction of a national remuneration scheme for councillors in England.
  • Councils should follow a principle of care to ensure that community engagement encourages all voices, provides diverse modes of engagement, and aligns representative and participatory forms of decision-making; the role of councillors as community leaders should be strengthened through individual councillor budgets and acceptance of the principle that councillors have the right to be engaged in any decisions or negotiations impacting on their wards.


Ends

Notes to Editors

After ten years of austerity across public services, local government faces a number of wicked policy issues, be it growing inequalities, housing, climate change or public health. At the same time, the organisational landscape of local government has undergone a patchwork reorganisation through City Deals and combined authorities, partnerships and shared services, asset transfers and local authority companies. Political leadership and democratic accountability have arguably become increasingly ‘messy’, as core internal capabilities and traditional ways of working have been challenged. Yet, there is equally a new municipalism that is emerging, one that advances new forms of local agency, inhouse services, municipal entrepreneurship and stewardship of place.

To understand and evaluate what these issues mean for the future of our local councils the APSE Local Government Commission was established to develop an independent analysis of the state of local government in the United Kingdom and focus on its future challenges and emerging role in delivering a New Municipalism. Importantly, the Commission has taken 2030 as its key date on the horizon, signalling its commitment to meet the challenges of climate change and sustainability, one of the pressing ‘wicked policy issues’ facing local councils today.

The final report of the Commission will be launched on the 22 July in Manchester at the Midland Hotel and through an online broadcast.  

Press pass tickets – please email mbaines@apse.org.uk

 

The Commission Board

The Commission Board consists of

  • Paul O’Brien, Commission Chair
  • Lord Gary Porter, CBE
  • Elma Murray, OBE
  • Heather Wakefield
  • Jon Collins
  • Neil Schneider

With support from its academic advisors Professor Steven Griggs, Professor Arianna Giovannini, Neil Barnett   

Read more about the Commission Board and Executive

Request for interview or related press articles  

Please contact Mo Baines on mbaines@apse.org.uk or Matthew Ellis on mellis@apse.org.uk  

Mobile: 07971 843515

 

Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.

 

 

 

 

 

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