As the final election results come in this morning, the big question is: how wrong can an opinion poll be?
Numerous polls prior to 7 May predicting a hung parliament have been confounded and the national exit poll has proved about right.
“Ignore the polls and let voters decide; they are the best opinion poll.” This phrase has been recycled by most of the main parties over the course of the campaign and is one of the lessons of the past few months.
In the main, local government should again stand proud, having rapidly and efficiently delivered electoral services that have enabled this voice to be heard. Returning officers and their staff should be proud of a job well done.
But what of the forecast for policy change? The two big unknowns for the next five years are the EU and the Union given the 2017 referendum commitment, combined with the stunning performance of the SNP. The markets will watch both with trepidation.
Austerity budgeting was set to continue irrespective of the outcome of the election but this now means real definition must be given to the forthcoming second round of major welfare reforms, and that future settlements for unprotected departments now need urgent clarification.
Chief among the unprotected departments that should be of concern to councils are of course the Department for Communities & Local Government and Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. Substantial pressure on council funding is set to continue, increasing corresponding pressures on council tax, business rates, and demands from vocal communities across the UK. Many councils are already prudently budgeting for negligible central grant support before the end of the next parliament.
As we have argued, making skills central to a sustainable and equitable recovery must also now play a central role for councils and local enterprise partnerships alike. Our ‘Ten Policies for Ten People’ sets out a positive agenda for change and reform of the skills system, putting localism centre stage, which the new government can now take forward.
Adult Learners’ Week will celebrate the economic gains from lifelong learning in parliament in June. Whatever the future shape of BIS, DCLG and of LEPs themselves, this agenda has to remain central to delivering a recovery communities feel across the UK, enabling career progression and wage growth for all citizens.
The politics of the election aside, it is certain that the tide on localism has turned. The Scotland results and the commitments to deepening devolution from all parties, following a host of city deals and the emboldening of LEPs, mean it will now be hard to row back from this.
Local government must continue to press hard on this agenda. If coupled with sustainable finance reform, the future for councils could be brighter still.
Tom Stannard, deputy chief executive, National Institute for Adult Continuing Education