The key pledge in Labour's 1997 manifesto was to 'join forces with local government in a concerted attack against the multiple causes of social and economic decline - unemployment, bad housing, crime, poor health and a degraded environment'. While Labour reversed years of spending cuts under the Conservative government, evidence of central government 'joining forces' has been patchy. Instead, the relationship has too often been one of councils carrying out ministerial commands.
Local Government Association chair Sir Jeremy Beecham (Lab) said the government had made significant progress in tackling key social issues such as deprivation and unemployment, and cited the central/local partnership, local public service agreements and recent discussions on delivering shared priorities as evidence of a more collaborative approach from ministers.
'With the notable exception of the announcement on bed-blocking we have usually been involved in discussion in advance on policy issues,' he said. 'The local government white paper, published with the backing of the Treasury and Downing Street, marks out a different approach, but is not always being carried through to the rest of the Whitehall departments.' Sir Jeremy hoped Labour would take to heart the idea that councils had an independent role to play.