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:-
Amongst the 29 recommendations for a reset of the system the Commission calls for:-
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.
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The Commission Board
The Commission Board consists of
With support from its academic advisors Professor Steven Griggs, Professor Arianna Giovannini, Neil Barnett
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