Has the Conservative Party finally woken up to the fact that it is now the dominant political force in local government?
For the past few years the Tories have really missed a trick with councils. While other parties acknowledge local government impacts on the life of every voter, it has largely ignored the sector in its round of reviews and policy discussions. In fact, David Cameron’s localist tendencies have not focused on local government, save a momentary foray into council tax, but on creating different elected bodies such as police boards.
Meanwhile, the grassroots party faithful have beavered away, leading dozens of highly successful councils up and down the country.
Last weekend, at the party’s spring forum, this neglect was acknowledged with the admission that perhaps it hasn’t treated local government with the respect it deserved. As our front page story reveals, this means a new focus on the sector and potentially a new direction for the party.
Finance is one of the areas where it intends to shine a torch. Although the party has ruled out a wholesale restructuring of the system, it is toying with allowing councils to retain some council tax revenue to stimulate economic growth.
The national local government team, led by the newly installed Bob Neill, is preparing to look overseas for a different model of allocating funding to ensure greater ‘transparency’. From the architects of the poll tax, and such an arch-centralising party, this is a significant policy turn if it comes to fruition.
There even seems to be a U-turn on police, with suggestions local leaders should have greater influence over borough commanders.
All this should be watched with keen interest. It’s an opportunity for party activists in local government to influence the policy agenda and remind the national party of the key role it plays in government and communities.
No political party stays in power indefinitely, as the opinion polls this week suggest, and when a bandwagon starts rolling it’s best to jump on board at the beginning.