Local government can solve the challenges we face as a nation
I am truly honoured and excited to be taking up my role as Chair of the Local Government Association at our Annual Conference today.
As the latest custodian of this vital national cross-party role, I will be working tirelessly to champion the local authorities of all shapes, sizes and colours which are represented by the LGA.
That work starts immediately as we continue to support councils with the current challenges they are grappling with on a day-to-day basis.
It is councils who are playing a leading role in supporting households struggling with the cost of living. With a proud history of welcoming new arrivals to our communities, it is councils who are grappling with the pressures on their housing and homelessness teams as a result of national asylum and resettlement schemes.
Financial pressures continue also. Our new analysis shows that the cost to councils of delivering their services at current levels will exceed their core funding by £2 billion this year (2023/24) and £900 million in 2024/25.
If inflation levels remain stubbornly high, this funding gap will grow even further.
Adding to these financial challenges, more than nine in 10 councils are experiencing staff recruitment and retention difficulties across a diverse range of skills, professions and occupations.
Councils urgently need greater certainty around funding through multi-year settlements and more clarity on financial reform so they can plan effectively, balance competing pressures across different service areas and maximise the impact of their spending.
I also take up the role in a moment of huge opportunity.
An opportunity to reshape and reset how government delivers on public policy.
By the end of January 2025, there has to have been a general election. At the LGA, we will be making all the parties an offer they can’t refuse as they draft their manifestos.
Our new Make it Local briefings - published at our Annual Conference today - set out the need for reset in the way in which central government departments based in Whitehall work with local government:
You cannot build a safe and thriving high street from a desk in Whitehall, you cannot tackle multi-generational health and income inequality through departmental silos and short-term funding pots, and you cannot drive prosperity and growth without power and resources aligned to the different opportunities and challenges of the cities, towns and villages across England.
It is local government which can solve the challenges we face as a nation. As leaders of our places we know our areas inside out – better than someone at a desk in Whitehall ever could.
You cannot build a safe and thriving high street from a desk in Whitehall
Yet in the United Kingdom, the ability of local government to fulfil its leadership role is dependent on its relationship with national government. We are an outlier in the OECD in our heavy reliance on national funding and powers. Compared to our international neighbours the relationship between central and local government in England is opaque, asymmetrical, and unwieldy.
This mismatch is emphasised by how, alongside falling government funding, councils have become locked into a system that relies heavily on competing against each other for additional government funding. Competitive funds, often with short timescales, are not a strategic way to fund local services.
Everything we do in local government is ultimately about the people we serve who want to see positive change to their daily lives and to their family’s prospects. Above all, every person and every community wants to feel hope for their future.
One of my central missions as LGA Chair will be to make the case for reform which will allow public services to be delivered faster, better and more efficiently at a local level.
We need to simplify council funding, cut out wasteful and unnecessary bidding for resources and give local government the long-term certainty and stability they desperately need. With this we can get on with working to improve people’s lives in our villages, towns and cities.
As the country continues to grapple with big and long-standing challenges such as climate change, shifts in the economy and labour market, and an ageing population, it is only by working effectively together with trusted local leaders that national government can truly deliver the change needed to secure the best opportunities for people and families.
If the next government truly commits to a new working relationship with councils, the benefits will be felt in every local area, by every family and every business.
Over the summer, throughout party conference season, and right up to the next general election we will be making the case to make it local.
Our communities are relying on whoever holds the keys to Number 10 to take us up on our offer.
Cllr Shaun Davies is the new Chair of the Local Government Association, which represents 350 councils across England and Wales.
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