The chancellor’s ‘devolution revolution’ could be the prelude to another round of cuts to council budgets, the coalition heavyweight and economist Vince Cable has warned.
Writing in an exclusive comment piece in LGC, the former business secretary signalled his support for a devolution agenda that reversed the trend towards “central control” and “infantalisation” of local government.
Local authorities should however take note that the offer to pass extra power and control down from Whitehall had come from the Treasury, he says.
“I worry…that this initiative is Treasury-led and the Treasury has little interest beyond creating a pretext for another top slicing of funding.”
Mr Cable’s fears for the devolution agenda are spelled out in a wide-ranging article setting out his views on his party’s future, the government’s housing policy and the chancellor’s approach to the economy.
He predicts the Lib Dems are due for a “big rebound” in their political fortunes, following the party’s recent huge losses of parliamentary and councillor seats.
“There is a mood of defiance and resilience after what was felt to be an undeserved hammering in May,” Mr Cable added.
“Unlike Labour, we now have a new leader chosen by a convincing majority.”
The former coalition secretary hits out at chancellor George Osborne’s redefinition of “deficit” to justify deeper and “disproportionate” cuts to public spending.
“Critics can reasonably argue that the scale of cuts now envisaged is disproportionate and ideologically driven rather than an economic imperative”, he added.
Local government would soon have “little left to spend on activities beyond statutory service”, according to Mr Cable who lost his seat as MP for Twickenham at the 2015 general election.
The respected economist also described the Conservative Party’s housing policy as “seriously damaging”.
“There is now the potentially devastating set of initiatives which will weaken social housing provision: right to buy for housing association homes; enforced sale of council houses and rent cuts on councils and housing associations,” he added.
Housing would become an “increasingly divisive issue” in local government, according to the former secretary of state.
“There will be mounting pressure on councils’ homelessness obligations and …aggravated tension between those demanding and resisting new build.”
The Lib Dems would champion “social housing” and “genuine decentralisation”, Mr Cable writes.
“The rhetoric is running far ahead of concrete plans to repatriate powers to local authorities,” he added.
Mr Cable’s full comment can be read here.