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Consistency is needed

Tony Travers
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As the new government’s programme takes shape, we can see just how far the Conservatives’ and the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to localism is likely to go.

As the new government’s programme takes shape, we can see just how far the Conservatives’ and the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to localism is likely to go. As in other spheres of policy, this area involves elements of both parties’ original ideas, though the Tory proposals seem to be the most visible.

Thus, we will see the creation of directly elected ‘individuals’ to oversee police forces - effectively transferring policy authority power to one person. This policy has not gone down well with either chief constables or police authorities.

Also, health boards will take over the work of primary care trusts. Board members will, it is expected, in part be elected directly and in part appointed by councils, though chief executives will be appointed by Whitehall.

The government is committed to transfer power over planning to councils - a move that will increase local power

Tony Travers

These policies would create alternative elected - or partly elected - bodies at the local level. There would be additional local democratic input, but in such a way that would create competition for local government rather than adding to its powers.

The extension of the academies programme, inviting all schools to opt out of council control, will reduce local government influence.

There has been no promise to remove council tax capping. Indeed, a ‘freeze’ is promised for at least a year, which is an odd thing to do where there is a deficit to reduce. However, the government is committed to transfer power over planning to councils - a move that will increase local power.

The commitment to hold a vote on whether or not to introduce a directly elected mayor in the 12 core cities could, in some places, strengthen local government, but only if voters want such a change.

Finally, we have yet to see how the ‘Big Society’ will affect local public services. If provision is to be taken over by local communities, tenants or charities, powers might be shifted from local outposts of central government as much as from councils.

It is hard to see how Total Place or its successor will function in this increasingly fragmented world. Local government will be expected to make deep revenue and capital expenditure cuts in the next five years. More, separate, providers sounds like a recipe for higher costs. Consistency is needed, and soon.

Tony Travers, Director, Greater London Group, London School of Economics

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