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Farewell 2016: the New Year will bring new opportunities

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Commentary on the dawn of a new year

The shocks and surprises of 2016 hardly need repeating, suffice to say that the world feels like a very different place than it did in January.

However, despite the seismic political changes the year has brought, on the ground many of the challenges remain the same. The new chancellor has relaxed his predecessor’s budget surplus target, but austerity has not ended; the social care crisis grows ever more acute and appears to find little sympathy with the new resident of Number 10; the impact of benefits changes will continue to increase hardship faced by some families with councils left to pick up the pieces.

Admittedly it is difficult to find much cause for optimism going into the New Year, except perhaps in the public’s apparent appetite for radical change and desire for change.

Early 2017 will bring a housing white paper and the London Finance Commission’s final report, both of which offer an opportunity to be bold. The election of at least six ‘metro-mayors’ in May has the potential to provide a powerful new platform for localism, or at least regionalism, and new voices for local government that will be heard on the national stage. The developing industrial strategy, with a sector-friendly minister at its helm, is a new avenue through which councils can shape the future of their places. And the devolution of additional responsibilities alongside the move to 100% business rates retention still has the potential to be game changing, if the sector can win arguments on skills and economic growth.

Meanwhile, Theresa May’s increasingly autocratic style - evidenced by trousersgate and the refusal to answer questions that acknowledge the difficulties of Brexit - is leaving ministers and government departments hamstrung and struggling to get anything done. While the government flounders trying to keep its head above the murky waters of Brexit, local government can provide the leadership and experience to resolve difficulties, on a local level at least.

We may be living through dark times but there is always light if you know where to look.

LGC wishes all of our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

LGC editor Nick Golding will be taking parental leave in the New Year and will return in May. News editor Sarah Calkin will be acting editor in his absence. 

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