4 minute read
Over the past two years, councils have played a crucial role in responding to the unprecedented challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tens of thousands of homeless and homeless people have been helped off the streets, millions of our most vulnerable have been protected from the virus and billions of pounds in lifesaving grants have been given to businesses forced to close or restrict their activities.
Together with our NHS partners, the advice contributed to the successful deployment of the vaccine in the field; providing venues, staff support and other life-saving aids to tackle vaccine hesitancy in local areas. While meeting all of these challenges, they have maintained the essential services that people across the country rely on.
The pandemic has highlighted the immense value of strong local leadership provided by councils and the exceptional commitment of councilors and council staff who have been on the front line in the battle against the virus. They are among the real heroes of the pandemic and, working closely with central government, local NHS partners, voluntary and community groups, have made a monumental effort to support and protect local communities.
We must use this white paper on leveling up as an opportunity to reset the relationship between national government and local government.
It is therefore fitting that they expect the government to end decades of centralization and present an ambitious plan to transfer powers and responsibilities to local authorities as part of its white paper on the race to the top. .
During the coronavirus crisis, central and local governments have shown what can be achieved when they work together towards a common goal. As we recover from the pandemic, councils must be placed at the heart of building back better from the pandemic and given the tools to close the local power and autonomy gap across England so that we can keeping pace on the world stage.
Over the past 10 years, several steps have been taken to devolve power to the local level and help level more parts of the country. Various powers and budgets were transferred to the Combined Authorities in Whitehall, based on devolution agreements negotiated between local leaders and the central government. However, at the same time as this process was unfolding, not all departments in Whitehall were moving in the same direction, with planning and skills reforms, among others, seeing local communities have less of a say than before and central control failing to realize a strategic plan for joint delivery.
The white paper is a chance to reorient Whitehall to prioritize delivering better outcomes for local people through democratically elected local government.
We need to accelerate the rate at which we delegate powers to local communities. The government should commit to working with councils to establish a national devolution basis for England, including a list of new powers available to each council without reorganization being a requirement.
One of the main lessons of the Covid-19 crisis is that a centralized design and control of public services does not work as well as an approach that allows municipalities to innovate and create new services locally.
As we look to the future, we should end the focus on Whitehall-designed devolution deals and instead ensure that all councils can support new infrastructure investment, build more housing, consolidate public services and provide better access to jobs and prosperity.
Along with a bold new commitment to decentralization, the government must also end reliance on small, competitively allocated pots of funding that councils need to invest in their local areas.
LGA research found nearly 250 different grants were awarded to local government in 2017/18: half were worth £10m or less nationwide and 82% are for a specific area of service . About a third of the grants are awarded on a competitive basis. This patchwork approach to funding hampers the ability of councils to come together and deliver new investment in their local areas.
To deliver integrated, efficient and effective public services, councils need the flexibility to put residents’ needs firmly at the heart of their concerns, without the added burden of navigating a complex and fragmented funding landscape.
The government should simplify funding, creating more local pots based on very clear and deliverable results agreed with local leaders. They should also end bidding processes, which force different regions to compete against each other for investment and divert scarce council resources from meeting local priorities.
Fundamentally, we must use this white paper on leveling up as an opportunity to reset the relationship between national government and local government and put councils at the heart of implementing their own local strategies, alongside the ambitious agenda of government aimed at improving opportunities in all regions of the country.
With the right tools, councils can help rebuild their communities and meet the challenges that have been bought off by the pandemic.
Cllr James Jamieson is the President of the Local Government Association (LGA).
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