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Views of the week: 4 March 2010

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LGC rounds up the best comment, analysis and opinion from the past week.

Philip Johnston in the Daily Telegraph on why council tax should be cut

Council tax increases are on average at a record low, but with Total Place having shown the way to £20bn of potential savings, this should not be a matter for rejoicing. If these findings are even half true, then we should not be looking forward to a “record smallest increase” but to a pretty substantial cut.

Ministers and council chiefs have long maintained that they only do what is absolutely necessary - even as council tax doubled and while the numbers working in the public sector grew like Topsy.

LGC says: as the focus on council tax intensifies, local government must ensure residents understand cost pressures and demand.

Dave Hill in the Guardian on Labour’s difficulty with the BNP

With the initial protests over, the BNP has embedded itself in Barking & Dagenham LBC. The political establishment in this still-Labour heartland knows that the recent advances of the far-right party won’t be easily reversed.

Faced by populist opponents who face several different ways, Labour has a stubborn problem on its hands. Leader Liam Smith showed respect for the BNP’s mandate, but his side gave no ground to its representatives and their toxic mythologies. Theirs has to be the only way to win back those of Labour’s “natural” supporters.

Lisa Jardine in Prospect asks whether academy schools really work

The lack of evidence is because academies are still fairly new — and in their brief lifespan have undergone more changes than a burlesque artiste. Under the Brown government, some of their curricular independence has been curtailed.

The role of the sponsor has become a more advisory one, which can be undertaken, ironically, by local authorities. There is no longer an ‘academies model’, just a collection of diverse schools, many of which do not yet deliver better results.

Independent leading article on the closeness of the general election race

For the first time since 1992 it is not clear who will win the election, and the close race between the parties should raise voters’ interest. Mr Cameron’s problem is that Labour under Gordon Brown appeared resigned to losing for some time - only quite unexpectedly to recover its self-confidence, almost miraculously, in recent months.

Pick of the Blogs

Localism - the way to save Whitehall

Matthew Taylor, Chief executive of the RSA

With Ofsted reporting that progress in schools has been hampered by too many central initiatives, and the inquiry into events at Stafford Hospital pointing to the ‘target culture’ of the NHS, centralism is having a hard time.

But the localists are still struggling, especially given the unwillingness of departments such as the Department for Children, Schools and Families or the Department for Work & Pensions to give up any of the levers of control.

If Labour doesn’t move on this, a Conservative government will, offering councils a non-negotiable deal: “You won’t get any more money but you can have more control over how you spend it. And the buck stops with you.”

The way the issue is structured makes the localist case difficult to sustain. Localists must ‘prove’ devolving power would improve outcomes. But given its complexity and confounding variables this is an impossible case to make.

Full blog available on www.matthewtaylorsblog.com/

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