What follows is not a controversial statement: Local government and central government need to work better together.
You can see this in all sorts of different areas. Examples include Eric Pickles’ crusade to link up social care and health care (a crusade for which he perhaps doesn’t get enough credit), calls from leading local government lights like Essex leader David Finch (£) or the DCLG select committee to expand community budgets and articles like this one from Richard Vize calling for more local government skills in central government.
There are plenty more examples and taken together it is clear to us here at WLLG that there is a recognition that we need to foster a closer working relationship between the two sectors.
And yet despite this recognition and general commitment to make these parts of our government work better together I think we can all agree that there is still massive room for improvement. The more we think about this the more we think that some of this might be cultural rather than specifically structural. After all, Governments of all stripes have made noises about greater devolution of powers to local authorities and more importantly about linking up services between the local and the central. One only need look at the graveyard of community budget projects (Total Place anyone?) to know that the commitment is real.
And yet, despite this commitment, progress is glacial.
Some of this might be political where the commitment is greater in theory than political reality, but some of it is almost certainly cultural.
I readily admit that I don’t know many civil servants and that our experience of these issues is primarily from the local government point of view, but I do know that the ‘Government’, ‘DCLG’ and ‘Whitehall’ are all bodies that are treated with a certain amount of scepticism in local government circles. Likewise, I often feel that despite spending a lot of time thinking and writing about local government and central government policy impacts upon us I know relatively little about civil servants or Whitehall itself. Perhaps this is just my failing but I feel that it is a wider issue.
So what can we do about this? Well, this is a blog so probably not a lot. However, as this is a blog we thought it might be something we could usefully write a bit about and in many ways the perfect topic to do some serious thinking about.
A few months ago we published a piece about internet dating for bureaucrats which went down very well. We don’t have the resources to turn that idea into a reality, but if the internet dating idea (or something vaguely similar) was to work it would be as one element of a wider strategy, so as a second best step we thought we’d try to generate some other ideas and more importantly start a debate about how we could improve functional relations between the central and the local.
Over the next few weeks we hope to publish a few posts looking at different areas of relations and different ideas for how things could be improved. We’d also love to feature guest posts from people who care about this issue too.
Do you work in the civil service or local government and have an idea for how to improve relations between the two? Are you already doing something that does this and would like to write about it? Do you even share our belief that this is a problem or are we over egging things? Either way we’d love to hear from you and feature a guest post or comment or two.
We might not get anywhere with this but in our minds this is a topic well worthy of a few weeks of debate.
We hope you agree.