Confidence in communities secretary Sajid Javid and his ministers has plumbed similar depths to when Sir Eric Pickles held the post, LGC’s latest confidence survey of council chief executives and senior officers has found.
Ahead of the Conservative party conference, which starts on Sunday, Theresa May’s popularity as prime minister has also plummeted while confidence in her government has hit rock bottom.
big number one
Just 7% of the 251 local authority chiefs, service directors and managers who responded to the survey said the Conservative government was having a good impact on the sector – down from 21% when we last undertook the survey in September 2016.
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When Sir Eric was communities secretary between 2010 and 2015 he was perennially unpopular within local government. However, respondents had more confidence that he understood local government than they had in Mr Javid. The current communities secretary was only rated marginally better than Sir Eric as a ’champion of local government in Whitehall’ and as a fair and reasoned critic of the sector (see table). Confidence in Mr Javid and has team has also fallen on all measures since this time last year.
This is despite Mr Javid playing a role in helping to secure an additional £2bn for social care services in the spring Budget, and repeated claims from Local Government Association chair Lord Porter (Con) that the communities secretary really is on the sector’s side.
With DCLG only looking at Grenfell/Brexit, plus a secretary of state who clearly holds local political democracy in disdain, I don’t see further deals being done in the short term.
Mr Javid’s ill-judged speech at the LGA’s annual conference in July, famously described as going “down like a bucket of cold sick” with the sector, perhaps did little to win him many supporters. That said, a third (34%) of those surveyed agreed with Mr Javid’s statement at the time that there is a crisis of confidence in the sector following the Grenfell Tower fire. However, 58% disagreed and most respondents gave the Department for Communities & Local Government a low score for its own response to the disaster, an verage of 3/10.
In comparison, there is at least some small belief shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne would champion local government in Whitehall (3% net confidence). He also scores more favourably than Mr Javid in relation to officers thinking he understands the sector (-3%), engages with local authorities (-12%), and is a fair and reasoned critic of councils (-10%). The survey was carried out between 13 and 21 September, ahead of this week’s Labour Party conference.
With Brexit looming large, net confidence that country’s economy will be stronger in a year’s time is in sharp decline – from -23% last September to -61% now. Respondents had more confidence in a Labour government headed by Jerermy Corbyn.
When Ms May first became prime minister hopes were raised that the government would go further with the devolution agenda. But despite inaugural mayoral elections taking place in six combined authority areas in May, devolution has, along with many other policies directly affecting local government, got caught up in a logjam.
While the West Midlands CA is hopeful of securing a second devolution deal, and parts of the North East in advanced talks over an agreement there has been no meaningful progress on getting the government to pass more powers down to local government on a wider scale.
Just 6% of those surveyed who are yet to secure a devolution deal said they were confident of getting an agreement in place in the next year while 65% were doubtful. A lack of appetite and capacity within the government to negotiate deals was one of the main themes highlighted by respondents.
One respondent said: “With DCLG only looking at Grenfell/Brexit, plus a secretary of state who clearly holds local political democracy in disdain, I don’t see further deals being done in the short term.”
Another simply stated: “Devolution is no longer the priority it was 12 months ago.”
Others pointed to long-held concerns over adopting an elected mayor and difficulties over obtaining unanimous agreement locally not just among politicians but officers too. One officer highlighted the “toxic relationship between chief executives” as a particular barrier in their area.
Net Confidence in the communities secretary and his ministerial team