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VIDEO: Give us the complete picture

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There are too many gaps in the Tories’ local government policy, says LGC editor Karen Day.

Forming policy must be like painting by numbers. The odd idea emerges as a splodge on a blank canvas, while others fail to stay within the designated lines and spoil the original design.

The Tories are still painting their picture of local government, led by the redoubtable Eric Pickles .

This week he gave us a few splodges, while his colleagues painted outside the lines, leaving local government in the same hemmed in position, despite the rhetoric.

As Mr Pickles, in fine rabble-rousing mood, toured the conference fringes promising to abolish the ultra vires rule and give councils a power of general competence, his colleague George Osborne effectively nationalised council tax.

With one hand the party promised to give and with another to take away: it is clearly starting to think like a government-in-waiting.

Councils would no doubt embrace a power of general competence, giving them the financial liberalism to respond more rapidly to economic ups and downs and the pressures of efficiency.

The next best thing, the power of wellbeing and the wide canvas it offered, hasn’t quite blossomed yet, partially due to risk aversion and the London Authorities Mutual debacle.

Mr Pickles also promised to abolish ring-fencing and scrap the comprehensive area assessment, a few splodges of colour indeed.

But all of that looks meaningless if the only tax-raising powers councils have, already limited by the capping edict, are subject to national government control. Gone will be local debate about how to spend council tax revenue.

In its place will be a toothless discussion about how to make the 2.5% of cuts to trigger the party’s two-year council tax freeze or a referendum and who will vote to pay more? But what happens after that? Can we expect radical fiscal reform?

Like any incomplete picture we need the gaps filling in. Perhaps we should leave this to the new Local Government Association chair Margaret Eaton, who has told LGC promised she’ll be no pushover when it comes to party policy.

See also LGC's blogs from the conference:

Sunday with the Tories

Frozen smiles on tax

Mr Pickles is the Prince

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