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Seize these devolution opportunities

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As the dust settles on what has been one of the dullest and yet tumultuous elections in recent years, we know this much: the Conservatives will form a government and the SNP reigns supreme in Scotland.

The end of the union would appear to be approaching fast. The Liberal Democrats have paid a high price for being in coalition. What does this mean for local government?

The weekend is approaching so I will start with the glass half full perspective. The past 18 months have been really important in the context of the recognition by the former coalition government that devolving power to our great cities is an economic necessity. There is real opportunity to push this agenda further in key cities and our county economic areas.   

The Conservatives’ economic mantra for this election has been about economic growth and making sure it’s not just London and the south-east that prospers. Further devolution should also continue the unleashing of the entrepreneurial spirit which we have seen in local government in the past five years with some truly great work in engaging communities and businesses as well as their own people.

The glass half empty perspective suggests it will be extremely difficult to realise these opportunities. The devolution debate gets mired in relatively arcane concepts such as the West Lothian question and the creation of an English parliament, haggling over the Barnett formula and the forthcoming EU referendum. The SNP’s complete hegemony in Scotland does not seem likely to accelerate the pace of devolution to the great Scottish cities.

On top of that, we have yet to see the worst of the funding reductions and local government will again bear the brunt. Further cuts in welfare and the ramping up of the right-to-buy scheme will have a direct financial impact on local government. The implications for those providing social care are challenging in the extreme with the extra responsibilities of the Care Act and the challenge of working with the NHS when it’s under severe financial strain, with deficit forecasts of £2bn nationally for health providers in 2015-16.

Whatever the path to the 2020 election, this much is clear. We are entering the era of local government’s greatest challenge.

Paul Dossett, head of local government, Grant Thornton

Column sponsored and supplied by Grant Thornton




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