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Things can (surely) only get better for Sajid Javid

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

With an economy still recovering after a recession and a big debate bubbling about Britain’s membership of the European Union, there are some uncanny parallels with the political climate from two decades ago.

Back then D:Ream’s pop anthem ‘Things can only get better’ rose to political prominence on the back of Labour’s landslide 1997 general election victory.

Fast forward 20 years and things can (surely) only get better for communities secretary Sajid Javid who is now well on his way to being as unpopular as Sir Eric Pickles with the 251 senior local government officers who responded to LGC’s latest Confidence Survey. Such is the scepticism about ‘Saj’ – as he’s often referred to by Conservative council leaders – that there is less confidence in him understanding local government as there was when Sir Eric was in his pomp ruffling feathers (and council newspapers).

The unwanted accolade is among a set of gloomy-looking results (for the government anyway) from the survey – an annual barometer of the political climate as viewed by local government’s most senior officers.

So there will be plenty of eyes on Mr Javid when he gives his speech to Conservative party conference on Sunday. Whether he delivers another “bucket of cold sick” - as his speech to the Local Government Association conference this year was famously christened - remains to be seen.

At conference last year Mr Javid spoke of tackling the housing crisis as being his top priority. But it’s only in the last month or so that Mr Javid has started to bring forward measures outlined in his housing white paper – itself subjected to delayed publication. Proposals include introducing a single method for calculating areas’ housing needs and letting councils raise planning fees by 20%.

While there is widespread support for the principles underpinning the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 – due to come into force next April – LGC’s survey shows a distinct lack of confidence in the legislation’s ability to deliver on its aims due to a lack of guidance and financial support from the government.

The issue likely to dominate most discussion when the Tories meet in Manchester is Brexit.

While much of the talk has been, and will be, about Britain’s membership of the single market and its relationship with other countries after withdrawing from the European Union, senior council staff are already witnessing concerning changes in their areas - half have reported that community cohesion has ‘got worse’ since the EU referendum. The impact of Brexit on council workforces is only set to make matters worse.

Confidence in the government is now alarmingly low. With councils struggling financially as austerity continues, our survey found little faith that things will get better anytime soon. 

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