Chris White writes: LGA all in a Pickles

Lib Dem Voice, the Local Government Chronicle and the Daily Mirror all featured a story recently about council leaders reaching the end of their tether with Eric Pickles. The event was a routine meeting of the Local Government Group Executive (LGA to you and me). I was one of those quoted as hurling my toys out of the pram. The Tories were more muted at that meeting but have nevertheless been pretty vocal elsewhere in their hostility to the Secretary of State for Local Government.

Surely it was ever thus? New Government comes in. Local Government gets its hopes up. New Government hits reality buffer. Local Government jettisons toys.

Up to a point.

First of all, the Department for Communities and Local Government has been singled out for criticism, in specific contrast to other parts of the Government. The Department of Health, DCMS, the Department for Transport – even the challenging Department for Education – have all received a degree of praise from those in the LGA who have been working with them.

One Lib Dem council leader who does not share the Coalition agenda on academies and free schools nevertheless says that Gove is at least prepared to listen.

Eric Pickles by contrast has spent a total of twenty minutes with LGA political leaders since appointment. This alone is an astonishing statistic about a Cabinet member who claims to be a localist.

A further aggravating factor is the local government settlement. We all knew it would be tough. But, as I have pointed out before on Lib Dem Voice, this year’s settlement seems to have gone beyond tough into the realms of the downright unfair.

This unfairness, moreover, is aggravated by a seeming inability to grasp the technical issues:

  1. parish council precepts were included in the figures supposedly showing the spending power of a principal council (a district, county, unitary or met)
  2. money was top-sliced out of council budgets to allow for the fact that new-style academies are to be given a share of local authority education overhead – but the deduction from any particular local authority bears no relation to how many academies may actually have been set up.
  3. The funding for concessionary fares has been calculated in a way which permanently deprives some local authorities of substantial funds which had previously been used for discretionary spending.

This is not an exhaustive list.

What capped it for me was the fact that Mr Pickles said that he would be prepared to increase ‘capitalisation’ (the ability of local authorities to fund certain one off revenue spends out of reserves) – but was under the impression that this meant an increase in central government grant.

Does this matter? Yes: big time. Rapid spending cuts in local government mean redundancy payments. Mr Pickles is insisting that well run councils can’t fund this expenditure out of reserves but must make further cuts in spending.

Perhaps it is no surprise that the advocates of an early reshuffle are becoming so vociferous.

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14 Comments

  • “Eric Pickles by contrast has spent a total of twenty minutes with LGA political leaders since appointment.”

    Perhaps they should invite him to lunch 😉

  • I had never ever really had any cause to look at Pickles in any detail until the GE and I checked out his past history when he was in local government and that certainly makes very interesting reading for anyone trying to take a measure of the man – at least two tape measures needed of course.

    As a LP member one bit of me wants him kept in place because he’s such a disaster but my humanitarian side wants him booted-out asap because of the misery he is causing to LA employees and the general public.

    He is just the typical odious Tory who knows he’s right because he’s following the age-old ideology. People might judge Cameron on employing Coulson but to be honest I would rather judge him on Pickles as that is either a major flay in judgement or there’s more to having to buy him off than we know.

    As I say have a look at the report done on him when in local government – it’s biased no doubt but it gives food for thought and with Pickles that’s a lot of food.

  • JB – aren’t they usually classed as structural (ie not to be made out of current budgets)?

  • This was the brief that the Lib Dems should really have held. They have great experience in Local Government and are the party of ‘Localism’. On the 20 minute issue, Pickles is a disgrace but I wouldn’t expect too much suprise to be expressed at that.

  • Agree Pickles is a disgrace but there are plenty of easy and legitimate insults to aim at him without resorting to remarks about his weight, surely?

    Trouble is, I can’t see Cameron ditching him out of cabinet altogether, so if he gets moved in a reshuffle there’s a fair chance he’ll be moved somewhere he can do even more damage… Should we be campaigning for him to be given a peerage perhaps? 🙂

  • Tiresome Commenter 31st Jan '11 - 3:04pm

    zomg eric pickles is fat lol

  • @Catherine

    No Peerages left I’m afraid the LibDems have got them all 🙂

  • Tony Greaves 31st Jan '11 - 3:29pm

    Half as many as the Tories…

    As for Pickles, he’s the Bradford Bull in a China Shop.

    Tony Greaves

  • @EJ
    Heh, true. And anyway after the shenanigans of Labour fossils this week we should really be campaigning to abolish the upper house altogether and turn it into a sixth form debating chamber 🙂

    @TC
    🙂

  • I can just imagine the converation:

    Cameron: Right, my government will have the Big Society as its fulcrum.

    Advisers: Good idea, so that will involve a lot of localised work?

    Cameron: Absolutely, localised provision is of great importance to me. My Big Society and local people can, no, must be essential.

    Advisers: OK, so we are going to need good relations with local government.

    Cameron: Yes, no doubt. I know, let’s put Eric Pickles on the case.

    Advisers: Ermmm

  • Chris

    I am intrigued about the LGA view of the provision in the Education Bill to remove LA governors from maintained schools. Most councillors I have worked with, of all parties, are very proud of their work as governors (and of their schools) and I can’t imagine they will welcome this change.

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