Either Labour or the Conservatives will lead the new government. That much is sure. While it is hard to be certain of the precise configuration of support for either David Cameron or Ed Miliband, it is possible to predict how a Cabinet led by one party or the other would be likely to treat local authorities.
Labour would set public spending figures higher than the Conservatives, though not by much. The NHS would put Ed Balls under huge pressure to ‘save’ it, thus pre-empting part of any extra cash.
Schools and universities would also be near the front of the queue for additional resources. The party is already committed to extracting £500m of further efficiencies from councils, so it seems likely that local government settlements for 2016-17 and 2017-18 would involve further cash and real-terms cuts.
Mansion tax, if introduced, would be a big new feature of local tax administration. It is easy to imagine the Treasury passing to local government the challenge of administering this new levy.
For many authorities this duty will not be onerous, but for London boroughs such as Westminster City Council, Kensington & Chelsea RBC and Camden LBC it will be a massive exercise. Householders would, presumably, be required to declare if their homes were worth more than £2m.
To deliver their public expenditure and taxation plans from now to 2020, a Conservative-led administration would have to push through local government spending reductions similar to those imposed between 2010 and 2015. Council spending would fall, on average, by 5% in real terms per year.
The right-to-buy commitment for housing association tenants, if introduced, would require councils that own social housing to start selling high-value homes and then recycle the resources partly to compensate housing associations and partly to build new homes one-for-one.
Modest transfer of resources to city regions may occur, though only gradually. Capping of council tax would continue whoever was in government. It is also possible that the pressure to deliver joint social care and health provision will lead to the ringfencing of local authority social services funding, thus creating greater pressure on residual council budgets.
The 2015 general election will not, sadly, alter the fundamentals of local-central relations.
Tony Travers, director, Greater London Group, London School of Economics