Labour council leaders have called on the national party leadership to “trust” local government to deliver change in the event of a general election victory and hand it a greater role in national policy decisions.
In a series of essays published today by the Local Government Association’s Labour Group, entitled On Day One, leaders argue against a government under Jeremy Corbyn exercising central control on local decision making and in favour of councils having freedoms to implement policies that meet the needs of their communities.
Labour group leader Nick Forbes has previously expressed concern over a desire among some influential members of the party for central control. During a speech to the Labour Party conference last September he warned that Labour in local government had much work to do to persuade the party that councils are a “force for good” and should be taken seriously in policy discussions.
Introducing the collection of essays, Cllr Forbes, who is also leader of Newcastle City Council and one of two local government representatives on the party’s national executive committee (NEC), said Labour councils’ record of protecting services with dwindling funding means “[shadow chancellor] John McDonnell should empower local government with a central role in dismantling austerity – and give councils the freedom to take those decisions for themselves”.
“The state under Labour must not be an all-powerful, distant and centralised government but a local, accountable, and inclusive state where power is shared with communities,” he added.
Cllr Forbes said Labour councils “deserve the trust of Labour in government” with a “wider voice” in the party, including better representation on the NEC.
Stevenage BC leader Sharon Taylor said more councils will follow Northamptonshire CC in being forced to issue a section 114 notice unless the next Labour government can immediately establish a fairer model for local government funding.
She added: “This is a huge task, and unless work begins in opposition there is little hope that the first day of a Labour government would have an immediate long-term solution – not least because it should rightly be jointly agreed with local government, rather than handed down by the Treasury.”
Islington leader Richard Watts said “a genuinely radical and reforming Labour government” must recognise “one-size fits all models” of service delivery “deny local areas the ability to design services that work for their varying needs.”
Bolton MBC leader Linda Thomas said there is “little hope” a Conservative government will solve the social care funding crisis, but warned reform “will not work if it is attempted to be remotely imposed from Whitehall, or even by the highly centralised and bureaucratic NHS.” Referring to Labour’s manifesto pledge to introduce a national care service, she added: “If Labour introduces a National Care Service that offers a one size fits all approach, rather than bespoke local services, then it will fail – and be highly inefficient and wasteful too.”
Lambeth LBC leader Lib Peck said councils must retain the freedom to set their own spending priorities under a Labour government. She added while it may be “politically seductive” to ring-fence funding, this would create an “over-emphasis” on one policy area and could “re-enforce the silo mentality that afflicts all big bureaucracies”.
Durham CC leader Simon Henig said local government is currently not adequately represented within Labour structures and decision-making processes, with formal involvement often “tokenistic, an afterthought”. He added: “A senior local government figure should be offered a seat at the cabinet table, and a local government representative invited to every ministerial team meeting.”
In a forward to the collection, shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne said: “The messages of ‘On Day One’ are clear: that the future of our country cannot be formulated by politicians in Westminster, but needs to be built in partnership with local leaders and local people, in towns, cities, and counties across the country.”
Responding to the report, local government minister Rishi Sunak said: “The cat is out of the bag. Labour want to impose huge council tax hikes while abolishing the right for local taxpayers to veto high increases.”