Local Government is facing what could be an existential crisis. How can it be saved?

Some of you may think that the title of this piece is another example of hyperbole. You might be right as the local government has faced crises before. However, as someone with 30 years’ continuous service as a local councillor, I do think that what we have come to expect concerning local services could be something we will in future only read about in history books unless something is done to reverse the downward spiral.

Especially since WW2 governments of all political hues have over the years progressively emasculated local councils, not only by taking many of their responsibilities away from them but, more importantly, by depriving them of the funds needed via a central grant to deliver what services they are still by law supposed to provide. Add to that the reluctance to consider finding ways adequately to fund local expenditure, given that, besides central grant and revenue, the only bank of last resort is the hastily cobbled together Council Tax, which is still in England based on property prices of nearly thirty years ago and a reluctance on the part of councils, and the public, for that matter, to entertain meaningful rises and you have a disaster just waiting to happen.

The recent problems in Northamptonshire, highlighted again today, and possibly in Somerset should be a warning to all Unitary, County and District Councils, as well as Central Government, that we cannot go on as we are. Since the crash of 2008 and the austerity programme first introduced by the Coalition Government in 2011, which used Local Government as a convenient form of human shield against public criticism, local councils have seen their grants massively slashed to the extent that it is the present government’s published intention to reduce its contribution to zero by 2020. Plans to allow local councils to retain Business Rates, together with any hint of structural or fiscal reform of Local Government appear to have been kicked into the long grass by Theresa May’s government, which, one might argue, has something slightly more pressing on its mind.

So, what is to be done to save the local government as we know it? Firstly, the public needs to be reminded that, if it wants decent public services, it has to pay the bill. Secondly, local government has to embrace reform of the kind already undertaken in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland but only partially in England. Here we currently have too many councils and, quite frankly, too many councillors. While the number of council employees has been massively and arguably dangerously reduced over the past eight years, the number of councillors has remained more or less the same. We need to abolish the remaining County and District Councils and establish Unitary Councils in their place. Where this has already happened in both rural and urban areas, significant financial savings have been made. At the same time, we need to offer enhanced powers to Town and Parish Councils if they wish to take them on. Thirdly we need to reform local government finance. There are various ways to achieve this, all of which will probably mean higher taxation in some form or another – not something which will be overly popular as the nation ponders its future relationship with our closest trading partners. However, whatever emerges will hopefully take account of the individual’s ability to pay more than the present system has ever done.

I know that we have enough to worry about at the moment. However, the ability to make local government work more effectively is entirely in our hands. Here we already are in control.

* John Marriott is a former Liberal Democrat councillor from Lincolnshire.

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37 Comments

  • I would take out 2 things from your prescription:

    1. A uniform system of unitary councils. “Creating” some “unloved” counties such as Avon and “abolishing” other much loved counties did not prove popular or a great success. There would be much wrangling between councils with may be actually an even worse system. The cry always goes up from politicians if in doubt re-organise it. Actually you end up – surprise, surprise with much the same system. I think as Lib Dems we believe in diversity – not a “one size fits all” approach.

    2. Reducing the number of councillors. A popular cry is always to get rid of politicians. Councillors vary some are lazy and do nothing, some are brilliant and work hard – no doubt most are mediocre by the very nature of things – many may get too enmeshed in the bureaucracy of the council. But they are important bridge between the people and the managers. The overall cost is peanuts – whether we get monkeys I will leave to others.

    I would also caution against too romantic a notion of parish and town councils. Some work incredibly well. Others (? many) people do not exist and don’t have elections with not enough people standing for election.

    I am also – to actually my surprise – becoming more enamoured of directly elected Metro Mayors and combined authorities. The Mayors often can speak up for their area – in the media and with Government. And they are often they right scale and size to devolve services such as Transport and Health to.

  • John Marriott 1st Aug '18 - 6:29pm

    @Michael 1
    If you look at areas that went ‘unitary’ in the past twenty or so years, I think you’ll find that all saved money. The big question is always how big the authority should be. An authority like Cornwall, for example, is probably as big as you want, while Authorities such as North and North East Lincolnshire are probably a little on the small side.

    Avon, Humberside and Cleveland, to give just three examples, were the Heath government’s interpretation of the recommendations of the Redcliffe Maud Report originally commissioned by the Labour Government. They are, of course, no more. In fact Lord Redcliffe Maud’s committee recommended that all senior councils in England became unitaries, which was something that shire Tories found hard to stomach.

    You may support ‘diversity’. I do not in this instance. Regarding Parish Councils, my view is that there are three types: the Proactive, the Reactive and the Inactive. We need far more of the first and we can achieve this if we enhance the status of these councils. Over 20 years of my membership of it, my Town/Parish Council went from 3 to 1, thanks, I would like to think, but not exclusively, to an influx of Lib Dem councillors. To be honest, it all depends at this and every level of local and national government on the calibre of those people who get elected ( or, often in the case of Parish Councils those who get co opted).

    Regarding elected Mayors, I tend to put them in the same category as Super Heads and ‘Czars’ etc. You could get a good ‘un; but you need them to be democratically accountable in case you get a dud.

  • I support the idea of more power going to town and parish councils. In principle. As John points out, these councils are something of a curates egg and many town/parish councillors lack a proper democratic mandate, having been co-opted by their fellow councillors. We believe in localism and these local councils should be playing a larger role, but not before wholesale reform of the way they are elected, criteria for membership (far to many councillors sitting on multiple councils, creating a local nomenclature ) and external scrutiny.

  • Graham Jeffs 1st Aug '18 - 8:35pm

    I am not clear what the impact on local democracy is when Unitary Authorities are put in place. I certainly would not simply make their creation a blanket excuse for culling the numbers of councillors.

    We should avoid the creation of fewer, but larger, council seats which are then less sensitive to local community opinions. If there are multi-member wards, that only makes the dilution of local democracy all the greater. That discourages people from believing that their vote can make any difference in respect of their own locality.

    My concern is that we need to clarify how we are going to enhance genuine local democracy from the outset. In this context talking about the voting system won’t be the answer – the erosion of local democracy is the here and now, voting reform is not!

  • John Marriott 1st Aug '18 - 9:26pm

    @Graham Jeffs
    Generally speaking District Councils are often closer to the electorate but often lack the financial clout to make a difference. Too large Unitary Authorities, both geographically and in terms of population, are often too remote from their electorate to be sensitive to their demands. It really does come down to getting the right balance.

    Lincolnshire, where I live and served as a councillor, comprises one County Council and seven District Councils (as well as close on 600 Parish/Town Councils and ‘Parish Meetings’). Over half of the 70 County Councillors currently serve also as District Councillors, with all that this implies in terms of conflicts of interest, as cited by Chris Cory. Then there’s the eight CX’s, plus senior officers, all earning well over £100k. However, to sweep them all away to create one Unitary Council would be to create a monolithic structure, whereas two or even three Unitary Councils would be far better. However, rather like creating English Regions, it’s where you place the boundaries that causes problems.

  • Philip Knowles 2nd Aug '18 - 8:05am

    LibDems have always been seen as good local politicians – in touch ith the communities that they serve, etc. One of our local district councils had a LGBCE review 4 years ago. It was Tory led but with a balance of independents and LibDem and Labour Councillors. In 2015 it returned 27 Tory and 1 UKIP Councillors. Our local district council has just had its review and we have our elections next year. We’rere determined not to see a repeat of that. Electoral reform has to be part of the process.
    Most of us (and I include politically aware people) struggle with understnding what each layer is responsible for. Unitary is one way but they are still too small to counter the might of London. Real devolution to the main regions of the UK is the only answer. Transport for the North covers a population of 16M people. It has no real power or budget. In London CrossRail isn’t complete – but they’re talking about CrossRail 2 – we can’t even get the trans-Pennine railway electrified!
    An elected assembly for the North with a Barnet formula and a ‘fit-for-purpose’ second tier would transform the North (and the other regions)

  • Regarding local government and the bankruptcy of Northamptonshire CC (the council that prides itself in having the lowest council tax rate of any shire county…

    In April 2015 the ‘Financial Times noted approvingly…

    Northamptonshire council takes outsourcing to different level
    Council transfers 4,000 workers to four service providers, leaving just 150 core staff

    A Conservative-run Midlands county council is blazing a trail for providing public services in an age of austerity.

    Northamptonshire is reducing its core staff to 150 people by transferring 4,000 employees to four new service providers, which will be part-owned by the council, paying dividends, but managed like private sector companies.
    .
    Paul Blantern, the council chief executive, says: “We’re always having to be at the leading edge, to be innovative and creative.”

    Hmmmmmmm?

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Aug '18 - 10:04am

    It seems we need an in depth enquiry looking into the purpose, running and funding of local authorities. An independent one would be better to take the politics out of the issue. This is partly just another side effect of Brexit.

  • Neil Sandison 2nd Aug '18 - 12:40pm

    Good to see an article about local government .I was getting the feeling the party celebrates our by-election victories but forgets about the crisis LG is in .Its getting to the point councils will only do what they have to do regarding statutory services and we will just surcharge for the rest through “green bin taxes and higher fees” . The criteria to get assistance from your local council is now beyond the point most would qualify and we seem to be back in victorian times of only looking after the “deserving poor ” .My concern regarding Johns proposals is Counties and Unitaries are hopeless at local plan making or even at providing good evidence for future infrastructure needs Local Plans and planning decisions are best made local where there is better community engagement and better knowledge of local conditions .

  • Graham Jeffs 2nd Aug '18 - 1:17pm

    @ John

    Thank you for the further information.

    So what is our party’s policy on local government structure and shall it make sense – given your very sensible comment about where the boundaries are drawn? That aside, should we not be stipulating the number of representatives per 1,000 of electorate that we feel could deliver a more relevant form of local democracy?

  • John Marriott 2nd Aug '18 - 2:01pm

    Sorry if I am beginning to sound like an anorak; but, having spent 30 years as a councillor, albeit in a bit of a political backwater like Lincolnshire, I do really feel strongly that the renaissance in democracy we desperately need could come from local government. After all, that’s where the mid 20th century Liberal Party revival really took off only to nosedive when Nick and co were seduced by those ministerial limo’s. (Possibly slightly harsh.)

    Graham Jeffs asks how many ‘representatives’ do we actually need. Which brings me to a comparison with the kind of political structure that turns me on, namely that of the Federal Republic of Germany. As most people will know, the German state consists of a Federal Parliament (Bundestag), a revising chamber (Bundestag) made up of nominees from the regions, with specific and limited competences, together with 16 regional parliaments (Landtage) that look after most things, and a little more, that local government here is responsible for. Below that you get city, town and village councils and somethings called ‘ Regierungsbezirke’, which very much mirror our county councils. Interestingly enough, these ‘Districts’, which, for example, run schools and transport, for example, are, unless they’ve changed things in the past thirty years, purely administrative bodies with no elected members at all!

    You know, I sometimes reckon that if all the elected members were to ‘take a break’, most of our councils would carry on quite adequately, although I am not advocating such a move. But it does make you think, doesn’t it?

  • Graham Jeffs 2nd Aug '18 - 4:59pm

    @john
    Yes, our full re-engagement with local democracy is a key stepping stone in our growth as a political force.

    However, the often woolly phrases of party policy are unlikely to achieve that.

    Surely we need to start from scratch and put forward a clear concise blueprint of how we would like to see local democracy operate. That blueprint would address issues such as:

    a) What should the democratic structures look like? Should we banish multi-member wards in favour of ‘community’ wards? Should elected representatives in one tier of local government be de-barred from participating at another level at the same time? Can we clarify the criteria by which boundaries are decided upon and ensure that the interests of communities, rather than political parties, are paramount?
    b) For which service provisions should these local and/or regional authorities be responsible. Start with a clean sheet – don’t simply fiddle with what is already there!
    c) How can these services be financed? To what extent can local rates be seen clearly to be paying for local provision in the areas from which they are collected? How should levels of central funding be agreed and to which expenditure areas should they be channelled? Would we agree that those areas not the subject of central support should be open to uncapped funding from locally determined rates increases?

    It seems to me that currently few people understand local government because it has so many different incarnations and even election patterns. How many people understand ‘who does what’ or ‘who is responsible for what in terms of financing’?

    We need to come forward with a coherent comprehensive plan for the reform of non-central government. Unless we do, local democracy is likely to continue suffering and our fragmented efforts won’t yield the benefits they might deserve.

  • There seems to be a consensus from contributors, or a close as you will ever get to consensus on LDV, that reform of local government is due. I have looked on the party website and it seems we don’t have any policies on the matter. There don’t seem to be any policy working groups at present covering this area, so, ladies and gentlemen, what happens next ? Do we have to bombard the FPC with ideas until they decide its high enough up the agenda to actually look at ? And if you are tempted to say, “but the public don’t care about constitutional reform”, hands up everyone who thinks their local council is a bit rubbish…….yes, you in the corner…the one from Northampton….hand up.

  • John Marriott 2nd Aug '18 - 6:47pm

    @Chris Cory
    I agree with you 100%. The Lib Dem’s used to be ‘the Party of local government’. The problem for them was hanging on to power when they achieved it. Actually this crisis is too big for one party to solve. Only when ALL parties, and the public in general, wake up to the mess it’s in will something positive happen.

    It used to be the case that aspiring parliamentarians cut their teeth in local government. That’s where the Chamberlain’s (Joseph, Austen and Neville) first started before WW1, as did Attlee, Morrison in the 1920’s and even a young Eric Pickles in Bradford more recently! Not any more. No wonder that the so many MPs appear to have little understanding of how local councils work and many are positively disdainful of them and their members. Not that some of the jokers at Westminster are doing much of a job!

    Oh, by the way, an apology. That ‘revising chamber’ in Germany is, of course, the ‘Bundesrat’.

  • Graham Jeffs 2nd Aug '18 - 7:47pm

    No policy on local government reform?! The mind boggles. What on earth do we think we are doing?! Let’s get that put right!

  • Personally I think that there is much to be said for regional assemblies. Scotland, Wales and London seem to have a more vibrant and more engaged non-Westminster politics than the rest of the country. There are quite a lot of issues that get scant attention at Westminster that could be devolved down. Transport is particularly such an issue.

    There is though obviously a big problem in that it didn’t take off under Labour and people have very little identity with their region.

    On re-organisation many councils now do share back office functions, management and Chief Executives. There is no doubt that there would be a big political rumpus for little if any gain. If you abolish the counties they will be up in arms and vice versa with the districts. There would also be a big row over which districts should merge with which. Smallish unitaries can have a big problem with having a small overall tax base. When Portsmouth got into problems under Labour with the Millennium Tower it had to put up the council tax by 18%. If it had been a Hampshire County Council project it would have been much more easily absorbed – and arguably quite a bit of the economic benefit and tourism has benefitted the rest of Hampshire but they haven’t had to pay for it.

    On the whole personally I don’t think that there is much of a crisis in local government other than that of finances. Obviously local government has been hit massively by the rock of declining government grant and the hard place of the council tax. There is a massive argument for having local income tax. It’s very popular people pay less on average. Very fair – income tax is one of the fairest taxes. Very robust – there is a bigger tax base and the take goes up “automatically” as wages and the economy grows.

  • @David Raw

    “enterprising community leaders lived in their native towns and cities and were committed to them… instead of today living miles away running multinationals, many offshore.”

    Um… by definition elected councillor has to have the electoral qualification of a link to the area and for the vast majority that is living in the area. If they are not living in the area, they have to work in it and OK for a few it may be owning property in the area but I suspect that is very, very few.

    Let’s not forget that many businesspeople have done a lot for their area or the area that they have come from – whatever their other failings – such as Andrew Carnegie who funded 660 libraries in the UK. Not to mention the Rowntrees, Cadburys and the Lever Brothers with Port Sunlight.

  • John Roffey 2nd Aug '18 - 9:10pm

    @David Raw 2nd Aug ’18 – 7:59pm

    David, as you probably are aware – I am not a long-term Lib/Dem member. However, my very clear conclusion has been that the Party’s greatest asset is [what appear to be] the long suffering local party members.

    To strengthen this aspect of the Party – along the lines of the Victoria era – seems an approach that would provide the much needed stimulation required at this time.

  • @John Roffey

    There is no doubt that people really like us in local government – shown by – for a whole host of reasons – of us get 10% more in local elections than our opinion poll rating. It is sad that the “bottom of the ticket” suffers from the popularity of the “top of the ticket” – not just in this country but in the USA and around the world.

    It’s hard to know what is happening in hundreds of individual areas – but reading Richard Kemp’s blog it seems we are taking the fight to Labour in areas such as Liverpool. We have held our elected mayoralty in Watford. We are the only viable opposition in many Tory districts. And it is still very tough going electorally in many areas. But… I feel in too many areas we are not being as active and as innovative as we should be in the grassroots and coming up with popular and innovative programmes of change and action for our local communities.

    We are back I suspect to how to practise true and innovative and radical community politics. Not for electoral success – although as we have seen that often follows. But it is only way to get that true, innovative and radical and successful change and improvement for our communities. As indeed our predecessors did before us as outlines above.

    Local manifestos are often- 99.9% – absolute disastrous if they are done at all. A few platitudes cobbled together in a few hours. But we need to be thinking now – for next May. What does the local community want? How do we REALLY consult with it in a meaningful way? What do we want our area to be like in 30 years time and how do we get there? Are we campaigning on the issues that matter today? From the famous Liberal street politics of a pedestrian crossing to saving the local hospital etc.?

  • Graham Jeffs 3rd Aug '18 - 8:35am

    @Michael1

    “I don’t think that there is much of a crisis in local government other than that of finances. “

    I totally disagree. The whole edifice of local government is under threat. Yes, finance is a key issue, but as I have indicated earlier, there is a real threat to the functioning of local democracy as a result of a befogging variety of local authorities and electoral practices. These have resulted in the vast majority of the electorate not having a clue how things operate and is causing disenchantment because they recognise that they don’t really have much of a say in terms of their own local communities.

    Please let us not be complacent about this. Please can the party recognise the challenge and set up the process to provide us with a radical, coherent, practical and democratic local government policy blueprint.

  • @michael1. You may have hit the nail on the head when you say that the end goal of all this is “how we practice true an innovative and radical community politics”. I would contend that in order to do that we need to do more things at the lowest level possible , Which is why I am always rabbiting on about town and parish councils. Clearly we need large unitary bodies (County?) to deliver education (can hardly do that at parish level) but there is so much more that could be done at town level (arts/leisure).
    By the same token, some parishes are so small that they do next to nothing except look after the local graveyard and the “rec”. If you look at the accounts of these “micro” parishes, 80% of the precept goes on admin expenses, notably the clerks salary. Waste of public money, they should be merged so that they cover a reasonable number of people (5-8,000 min?)

  • John Marriott 3rd Aug '18 - 10:11am

    Fame at last! The Guardian has published an edited letter of mine on Local Government in today’s issue. Also, there is a very interesting article from Simon Jenkins, where he says; “Uncap local taxes, free local spending, and allow people to pay for what they want. In most countries this is seen as normal.”

  • @Graham Jeffs

    um… I am not sure that throughout the vast swathes of the country that anyone has ever been much interested in their council or councillor. Who could name their local councillor? Certainly in the 80s and 90s- although young at the time but also vastly interested in politics I hardly knew that councils existed .

    One of the successes of the Lib Dems since the 70s/early 80s has been our electoral success shaking things up at a local level, Focus leaflets engaging with local communities and some practice of good community politics. If anything I would say local democracy is in a rather better state today than it was in the 70s and 80s – in no small part due to the Lib Dems.

    @Chris Cory

    Thanks for your kind words – appreciate it. We have gone into the pros and cons of parish councils in other threads recently. My concern is that they can be bastions of conservatism with a small and big C. Certainly again I was not really aware of our Parish Council until I stood for it – confusing it with a parochial church council as in the Vicar of Dibley. Small councils like ours can be run efficiently with a part time clerk or volunteer clerk and of course parish councillors don’t get an allowance. We had a very successful environmental project that got lottery funding. And of course that is another thing that they can do well – bring in outside money. But you are probably right in saying they work best at about 5k-8k population but smaller and larger ones can work.

    Yes – more money, more power, more autonomy, more respect from central Government for local councils. Arguably it is in slightly better shape than some recent times. Except for money which is of course important but when did local councils say they had enough money? A crisis? A little OTT in my opinion.

    I think it misses the real issue – above all for democracy to flourish people have to make it work – whatever the democratic structures. Go out and get involved. Get litter cleared up, street lights mended, new play equipment, better schools, draw up a local plan, get the council to lobby the Government on important issues. Work out what your local area really needs. Then work with like minded residents to get them done. Or just go and pick up some litter. But do something today to improve the world. If not you then who? If not now then when?

  • Graham Jeffs 3rd Aug '18 - 5:15pm

    @Michael 1

    I think you have missed the point. If councillors are currently unknown to their electorates “throughout the vast swathes of the country” that implies a failing in the system. It was not always so.

  • @Graham Jeffs

    “If councillors are currently unknown to their electorates “throughout the vast swathes of the country” that implies a failing in the system. It was not always so.”

    Well – we will have to agree to disagree. Certainly 30 years ago, the writers of Yes, Prime Minister were able to write a pretty damning critique of local Government in a series that chimed with people and often was a very accurate portrayal of political life.

    They have Jim Hacker saying “These councils are like little old rotten boroughs. Half a dozen people [within political parties] deciding who will be in town halls for the next four years.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biR3D-Njj7I (a slightly skewed copy to get round the copyright restrictions)

    Indeed during the 80s, 90s and 2000s we were challenging this cosy system and that is where I believe real reform lies with our Focus leaflets and community politics.

    When I have lived – 30 or 40 years ago in a safe Labour or Tory ward I have never had a leaflet from the councillor outside election times (and rarely during elections).

    Where Thatcher and Major great friends of local Government? No!

    Since 1997 I would argue things have got marginally better. We have had devolution to Scotland and Wales, the restoration of a council for London, metro mayors are a promising innovation, some new powers for councils such as public health even if there isn’t much money to go with them, local plans etc.

    Now we may not have the great municipal reformers referred to above. This is due in no small part to the reforms they started having been instituted nationwide. Nye Bevan based the national NHS in large part on how things were organised municipally in South Wales – so much so that some said that they didn’t notice the difference.

    As I have said much improvement is needed but that is different from saying that there was some golden age or indeed a crisis today – saying that something needs improving is different from saying there is a crisis.

  • John Marriott are you aware that because of the Cabinet system and directly elected mayors whenever a council has a boundary review its number of councillors is reduced, so there has been a reduction in the number of councillors since 2008.

    At district and unitary level the ratio of electors to councillors should be 2000 electors to each councillor, this would enable independents to get elected because they are well known in their area. And of course directly elected mayors and the cabinet system should be scrapped and replaced with the committee system so all councillors are involved in taking decisions and not a just a few.

    However I think most Liberal Democrats would agree with you that councils should have their powers restored to them. Perhaps we should look as a party to restore all the powers councils have lost since 1882.

    On Saturday 15th September in Brighton we will be discussing a new Local Government Policy Paper. I don’t think it includes many of John Marriott’s ideas or mine.

  • Graham Jeffs 4th Aug '18 - 9:20am

    @Michael BG
    Of course having a ratio of electors to councillors is largely negated if there are then multi-member wards where the winning party takes all. What are needed are single seat wards allied to communities to represent their local views.

    Your last sentence is singularly depressing.

  • John Marriott 4th Aug '18 - 9:59am

    @Michael BG
    I am aware of the reduction in councillors. Last year my County Council went from 77 to 70. However, the kind of reduction I would envisage would be far greater. You see, when I stood down last year the previous County Council had over half its members being of the ‘dual hatted’ variety, namely sitting also on the various District Councils in Lincolnshire.

    I agree with Graham Jeffs regarding multi member wards. For one thing, given the size of such wards, a single ‘Independent?’ candidate, for example, would need the stamina of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve to knock on every door let alone to deliver a leaflet to each house! Clearly, these wards require the organisation you get from a political party, with candidates, and helpers delivering and canvassing for each other. No wonder that they are meat and drink to the Tories around here!

    I’m not surprised that the Party conference will be largely ignoring the kind of ideas we have been putting forward. That’s why I’m no longer associated with my local party, which just does NOT understand how local government works, nor is prepared to adopt the strategy which got me elected in every contest I fought for Town, District and County Council over a period of thirty years.

  • Neil Sandison 6th Aug '18 - 12:10pm

    Michael 1 and Graham Jeffs if your Councillors are not known you have not been getting your FOCUS or Street letters out regularly enough. Do not expect the system to protect poor communicators or those without the drive and ambition to cut through .Agree overly large wards or districts hamper local community engagement but when one looks at large rural or City constituencies or multi -town wards these problems still apply and it is down to local organisation to overcome those problems .Reform of Local Government making every vote count ,improving turnouts and improved autonomy in decision making are the real prizes perhaps ALDC members can help put something together for the spring conference around reforming local government.

  • Graham Jeffs, I think ensuring at the District and Unitary level the ratio of councillors is a maximum of 2000 with as you say single member wards would be better than huge multi-member wards and STV, where you have to have the backing of a political party to afford all the leaflets required to win, but I can’t see the party ever having such a policy.

    Neil Sandison, if the motion supporting the Policy Paper “Power for People and Communities” is passed in September then most likely Conference Committee will not select another motion on Local Government for the next two years.

  • Graham Jeffs 6th Aug '18 - 1:26pm

    Neil Sandison – what on earth are you talking about? What makes you think my local councillors are LD?!

  • Graham Jeffs 6th Aug '18 - 1:29pm

    Neil Sandison – what on earth are you talking about? What makes you think my local councillors are LD?!!
    Apart from that, single member wards would increase the chances of a councillor of any party being better known to their electorate.

  • @Michael BG

    “Liberal Democrats would agree with you that councils should have their powers restored to them.”

    Councils do have the power of general competence – that is to do virtually anything unless it is specifically prohibited – see http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN05687

    The real problem is money!

    Of course to do something innovative, different, extra is tough when there isn’t enough money even for core services. Giving councils better sources of money – local income tax, may be land value tax would give them the opportunity to say to their residents you are going to get X but you are going to have to pay more for it or you going to pay less but not get Y.

    I am more enamoured of elected mayors than i thought I would be – especially at regional level. London, a strong Labour supporting area has had as many elections won by non-Labour candidates as Labour. It enabled Ken Livingstone to outmanoeuvre Blair and New Labour which was to the benefit of London and local government there.

    Andy Street won for the Tories in the West Midlands – a fairly strong Labour area. There has been an independent Mayor in Bristol. Bedford has had an in independent elected mayor followed by Lib Dem And we have held on to our elected Mayoralties in Watford and Bedford despite difficult electoral times. And there tends to be a stronger focus on it being about local issues rather than just being a referendum on the national government. And it enables a mandate to be established for a difficult decision – Ken Livingstone and congestion charging comes particularly to mind.

    I do have though still have an issue about having an elected Mayor for a single authority where you elect councillors to take decisions and run the council – and they can’t because the elected Mayor is doing it.

  • Simon Banks 3rd Oct '18 - 6:52pm

    Interesting that this does not advocate the measures that would really save local government – more local money-raising powers, the abolition of the distinction between revenue and capital spending, fewer central government restrictions on local decision-making, devolution of real powers without dictating that elected mayors etc must be imposed willy nilly and, of course, simply more money.

    As for reducing the numbers of councillors, the comparison with numbers of officials is irrelevant. Councillors are not like army officers leading a number of soldiers. The number of issues has not declined and the population has increased. That’s what councillor numbers should be compared to. Fewer councillors means more pressure on those that try to serve their constituents, councillors harder to contact and less well-informed about their areas (because stretched thin) and a higher proportion of councillors holding a cabinet post or some other goody.

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