The next few months mark a pivotal point for the future of local government funding and the wellbeing of the nation’s economy.
As councils we are seeing our income fall while the demand on the most expensive services, like adult social care, is increasing on an unsustainable scale.
All of this means that the amount of money we have for innovative schemes to boost local economies, support business and tackle unemployment is not only shrinking, but is fast on its way to disappearing altogether. But just as the nature of these two problems is interconnected, so is the solution.
The need to boost growth should not be seen by the government as a reason to row back on its localist pledge - it must be a catalyst to devolve faster
Council and government have enormous ambitions for every part of the country to grow.
With the chancellor’s autumn statement on the horizon and the local government finance and growth and infrastructure bills working their way through Parliament, we are entering a critical phase which will define the way in which we meet the challenge of boosting our economy.
As chairman of the LGA I will be pressing the case that the desperate need to boost growth should not be seen as a reason to rein back on the government’s earlier pledge to localism – it should be the catalyst to devolve faster and further.
Local authorities speak to business leaders on a regular basis. The more Whitehall intervenes, the more it hinders this relationship and hampers the ability of councils to drive forward their local economies. There’s a very real risk that what government sees as solutions for growth could end up becoming the new obstacles.
To boost our struggling construction industry we want to see the government working with councils, the banks and industry to make mortgages more accessible to buyers and finance more accessible to developers, not intervening in local planning matters.
To boost employment we need to see skills training directed by employers who will be providing jobs, not by the office of the Department for Work & Pensions in Whitehall.
To reform local authority finance we need the Treasury to give local authorities full flexibility over the way in which local business rates are spent locally, not siphon off hundreds of millions of pounds and restrict how we use capital assets.
Councils are already doing what we can to get the wheels of the economy turning again, but we want to be able to do even more. By putting local areas at the heart of the solution we can create a virtuous circle which helps put businesses in the driving seat, stimulates local growth and in the long-term puts public sector finances on a sustainable footing.
Sir Merrick Cockell (Con), chairman, LGA, and leader, Kensington & Chelsea RBC
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