The debate on local authority reorganisation and unitary structures is distracting local government from dealing with the important challenges we face.
Determining what works locally should be left to local politicians, not ordered from above. There is no one-size-fits-all solution; the arrangements need to fit the local circumstances.
To respond to the financial challenges, district councils are exploring options for clustering and other forms of collaboration, with a variety of partners, including other district councils, county councils, clinical commissioning groups and the police.
There is a strong case for councils clustering in twos, threes or fours to provide opportunities for shared services or reciprocal provision of services for their neighbouring authorities. This increased collaboration maintains local decisions being made at a local level as part of the localism philosophy while delivering the savings and efficiencies required.
Rather than getting distracted by reorganisation debates, district councils are getting on with delivering for their communities. We play a vital role in local government delivering growth for more than a third of the UK’s population as we are responsible for planning and housing.
We look after some of the most vulnerable in our communities as we are responsible for tackling homelessness. We directly enhance the quality of life in neighbourhoods because we empty bins, keep the streets clean and deliver leisure, tourism and cultural activities.
District councils provide a strong foundation for any future model of local government. Districts are both local enough to respond to the needs of citizens while operating at sufficient scale to be efficient. They have a track record of delivery, strong partnership working and innovation.
The District Councils’ Network has commissioned the Institute of Local Government Studies at Birmingham University to investigate the potential range of governance and delivery models that could be established from a district council level. This evidence-based research project will identify examples in which district councils have adopted new ways of working with their partners to strengthen their local leadership for their communities, have secured savings and delivered better outcomes.
It will explore the options open to districts to maximise both operational and strategic outcomes and the factors that contribute to their success.
Neil Clarke (Con), chair, District Councils’ Network