LGC’s essential daily briefing.
Revealed: £240m social care allocations
Today’s big survey: Slight increase in confidence services will be protected
Today’s big discussion: Supply, cost and cuts: The varied state of homelessness
This year’s Conservative party conference will be remembered by those in local government for the bolt from the blue that was the announcement of the end of the much-maligned housing revenue account borrowing cap.
Few in local government would have predicted such a momentous moment as a grinning prime minister, throwing her particular - some would say somewhat beguilingly peculiar – shapes, entered the conference hall stage left.
In the absence of any discernible groove Mrs May was, however, about to prove she was suddenly in step with the sector’s thinking and the logic of setting councils free to make a significant contribution to tackling the housing crisis.
The prime minister would show she is no longer a slave to the frustratingly rigid, insistent rhythm of the Treasury’s unswerving adherence to strict debt management but had shown a welcome willingness to dance to a different beat.
This year’s LGC confidence survey was launched before the Tory conference and most responses were received before the prime minister’s Birmingham bombshell.
It is impossible to know whether the borrowing cap announcement, and another social care sticking plaster, would have greatly influenced responses to questions aimed at gauging attitudes among senior officers to a government that has rarely shown itself to be a friend of local government.
Such was former communities secretary Sajid Javid’s unpopularity in the sector that he had the inglorious distinction of being less trusted to understand local government than Eric Pickles, a man who appeared to revel in the disdain that many felt towards his approach to the sector.
Mr Javid’s departure to the Home Office was not widely lamented and there was some hope of a new approach under James Brokenshire, who went out of his way to appear approachable and accommodating when appointed in May.
However, five months later, Mr Brokenshire and his team would have surely hoped to have made more progress in improving the relationship been the sector and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.
The survey results show that, while there has been some improvement in the sector’s perception of the ministry and the performance of government as a whole, there is still a deep-seated lack of positivity and confidence.
A vast majority of senior officers believe government policies remain bad for local government, while just 12% said they are confident the secretary and Mr Brokenshire and his ministers champion local government in Whitehall.
This confidence chasm should be a serious concern ahead of a decisive comprehensive spending review, with huge decisions on fair funding and business rates retention, as well as uncertainty over economic and social impact of Brexit and persistent questions over the very viability and role of local government.
To meet the many and varied challenges ahead central government must find a way of re-aligning its approach and making most of whatever common ground with local government can be found for the common good.
But years of crushing austerity, feeling largely ignored in Whitehall and government policies perceived as hostile to the sector have left deep scars.
While the lifting of the HRA cap is a welcome surprise, as the results of this year’s confidence survey show, the government still has a long way to go before confidence can be restored.
By Jon Bunn, senior reporter