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LGC View: The taboo is lifting

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Despite Eric Pickles’ strictures, proposals to restructure local government are back on the agenda.

Stephen Williams, the Liberal Democrat representative at the Department for Communities & Local Government, backed reorganisation when speaking at his party’s annual conference in Glasgow.

His DCLG colleague, Conservative local government minister Kris Hopkins, takes the opposite view. After a week in which senior Tories reportedly admitted the NHS reorganisation was the biggest mistake they had made since coming to power, it is unsurprising that structural reforms aren’t flavour of the month.

Political calculations also speak loudly to Tory ministers, afraid of upsetting their district councillor activist base.  

Much can be achieved via greater sharing of services, as New Local Government Network director Simon Parker points out (right). Equally, voters are unlikely to welcome a prolonged period of structural navel-gazing by local politicians when services are being cut.

But the same voters might like to see their councils making the most of scarce resources. Studies into the impact of the most recent wave of local government reorganisation, which happened on Labour’s watch, show such councils have been able to achieve bigger savings than those where the status quo was preserved.  

Prolonged austerity is putting the onus increasingly on long-term savings.

In light of this, supporters of reorganisation may soon find themselves holding a stronger hand than they have for many years.

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