Andrew Gwynne: For too long, local government has been led by politicians in Westminster without a vision
A Labour government will champion community concerns, and repair the damage done to local services from years of Tory austerity, writes Andrew Gwynne
This conference season will expose the divisions within the government and will make it clear that a Labour government is urgently needed to tackle the quiet crisis hitting our towns, villages and cities.
While much of the focus understandably remains on Brexit negotiations, across the country, local government is in crisis.
Tory-run Northamptonshire was the first council in over two decades to issue a section 114 notice – effectively declaring itself bankrupt – before then issuing a second less than six months later. It has since become the first authority forced to scrap itself entirely because of Tory austerity.
Proving that this was just the tip of the iceberg, Tory-run Somerset county council avoided the need to declare bankruptcy by inflicting brutal cuts on local people.
Legal obligations require councils to fund certain aspects of adult social care and children’s services, both of which are in growing demand. This has led to the services people rely on every day – like bin collections, road gritting, libraries – being forced to bear the burden of cuts. Non-statutory children’s services are also facing the axe, leading to cuts in early intervention, transport for disabled children unable to walk to school, and timely support for children showing early signs of vulnerability (including those at risk of extremism).
The financial picture is stark – and despite the BBC noting that 80% of the councils at risk are Tory-run, the government has refused to acknowledge the problem.
This conference, I will be laying out Labour’s vision for local government and how a future Labour government will repair the damage from years of Tory austerity and build a sustainable approach to fund our local services.
For too long the sector has suffered from devolution of piecemeal powers to local authorities, and botched, sticking-plaster solutions for this funding crisis – short-term solutions for problems that need long-term answers.
We need a new settlement – not one which sets cities against counties, or which leaves towns behind and districts as an afterthought – and an approach to devolution that is built on a strong foundation of a resourced and empowered local government.
All too often people and communities feel that the planning process is something that happens to them, rather than something they are involved with. We want to ensure that all communities are part of the decisions that affect them, and so this year at conference we will be launching our planning commission.
Led by Labour’s shadow minister for planning, Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, the commission will visit nine regions to meet with planners and local authority planning leads, resident groups and developers. We will gather evidence from a wide range of sources, including local people, about what is good and bad in the current system, and what needs to be changed and how.
The launch will take place at party conference on Sunday 23 September, 17.30-18.30 in the Albert Suite of the Pullman Hotel.
Good local government, and good local governance, is about strengthening society. It’s about supporting one another; bettering the life chances of the many and helping those in need. The challenges that the sector has faced has made this difficult in recent years, but I am proud of all those councillors who have been at the forefront of protecting communities and the local services that people rely on.
For too long, local government has been led without a vision by politicians who have no idea what local government does, and what it could do. I am looking forward to being in a position to change that.