The government has kicked off the year with a startling turn in rhetoric. The message from the prime minister and his colleagues at the Department for Communities & Local Government is to ‘be bolder’. The more local government asks for in 2008 the more it is likely to get and this should be the year of ambition.
This has already taken the political group leaders by surprise after Gordon Brown personally urged them to be more radical and adventurous. Of course, politics being politics this encouragement has been interpreted in a number of ways, from Brown being more amenable to financial reform to local government getting a mention in his constitutional review.
But with Mr Brown’s more determined mood and an urgency to make his political mark, local government may find a more receptive prime minister in 2008. The concordat is an important first step in getting the role and responsibilities of central and local government down on paper. Mr Brown apparently played a key role in its drafting, insisting that a line on increasing the democratic accountability of health and police was added at the last minute.
Of course, we can only encourage local government to take him at his word and, while he’s looking for bigger and bolder ideas, to be the ones that deliver them. And it just so happens that an opportunity to test some of this rhetoric is around the corner.
The negotiations for local area agreements and for the pilot multi-area agreements are the perfect test bed for this more ambitious mood.
If councils want more freedom, less micro-management and a clear leadership role over their partners these are the places in which to start.
As Hazel Blears says in this week’s issue, she’s working to convince her cabinet colleagues of a bigger role for local government and is offering legislative and political help for councils hitting the ceiling on their powers.
So, a year of ambition? If so, the ball is in local government’s court.