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POWERING UP FOR PARTNERSHIP: LGA SPELLS OUT AIMS POST-ELECTION

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Will Hamill, government relations and parliamentary officer at the Local Government Association, writes in the late...
Will Hamill, government relations and parliamentary officer at the Local Government Association, writes in the latest issue of Talkback:

'The Local Government Association is aiming to forge a stronger relationship with the new government. The precise course that we will follow will become clearer once the impact of the new government is known. In the meantime, we are looking hard at the government's policy proposals to identify opportunities for joint working that benefit both central and local governments. Now that elections are over, the LGA is ready to press local government's case as a real partner in government.

The association has solid foundations on which to rebuild central/local government relations. Despite an adverse climate, local government lobbying in Westminster and Whitehall has had some impact on the tidal wave of legislation affecting authorities in recent years. Nor have all the successes been public, as common sense and expertise have had their effect in private discussions with ministers and civil servants. Now that local government has entered a better climate, the challenge that faces the LGA is to develop these successes so that it counts once more at the heart of public decision making.

One thing that local government has learnt over the years is that it needs friends to make its voice heard on policy development. We start with good working relationships with other national organisations, interest groups and think tanks - we shall be looking to take forward and broaden these links.

In parliament, local government's members and officers have been closely involved in briefing MPs and proposing amendments on key issues. Again, in the new parliamentary session, the LGA will make its views known to as many MPs as possible. However, it is within Whitehall that the process of the LGA sustaining itself at the heart of the nation's policy making must start.

The recommendations of the recent Hunt committee on central/local relations provide an ideal springboard for the new relationship that the association hopes to forge with central government. The committee's recommendations reflected in large part the evidence submitted by local government. Following these recommendations, the LGA published a set of draft principles for central/local relations, which it hopes - after consulting with member authorities - to discuss with government.

The long-term aim of the LGA underpinning the draft principles is to settle the future for local government. The association wants proper recognition of the role of councils and a secure framework within which their relations with government can operate. These would include clear processes of discussion, rights to information and consultation on both sides and, wherever possible, joint working on agreed objectives. The question is, how best can the LGA achieve these stated aims in the days and months after the election?

Naturally, the critical contacts will take place between the LGA's members and policy teams with ministers and civil servants, starting with meetings involving leading members over the coming weeks. The association's public affairs team will work hard to promote those links and to monitor progress across the field to identify weak points and to generalise good practice. We hope, in particular, to improve links with departmental special advisers, who now play an important and established role in the Whitehall process. As ever, officers will also be in regular contact with civil servants.

Our particular concern will be to promote a healthy and vigorous relationship between centre and locality, which is durable despite the inevitable tensions that will arise over specific issues.

Our lobbying of the government will only be truly effective when we manage to project local government's agenda in a way that reflects what the government itself seeks to achieve. In other words, our task is to persuade central government it needs local government, and to then convince it that it is the LGA agenda that will deliver what it needs.'

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