5th November 2013
Last week we started a little series of posts about how we can build better relationships between local and central government. We argued that relations and understanding between the two needed improvement and that this was a two way process.
"Losing a department in it’s own right would be a blow for local government, but hardly unexpected. A post on the We Love Local Government blog this week spells out how councils have been co-conspirator in their own political demise, however unintentionally.
"Government, DCLG and Whitehall are all bodies that are treated with a certain amount of scepticism in local government circles," writes Gareth Young. "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."
Yes, Gareth. It is. And that is why coalition government feels it has nothing to fear – from outside or within – if it chooses to dismantle the very structures that preserve local government within our national democracy."
It is worth saying that whilst I understand Hannah Fearn’s desire to generate a debate on this topic I genuinely don’t believe that councils have been co-conspirators in their own demise, intentionally or otherwise. Nor did our piece suggest that. Indeed, to read the post we/I wrote and draw that conclusion misunderstands what we were trying to achieve.
However, as we were quoted in the debate we thought we’d add a post about the DCLG to our planned series about central – local relations and how we can improve them. Drawing on the above there are two questions to ask:
Firstly, have local authorities been co-conspirators in their own demise and secondly would the abolition of the DCLG be a good or bad thing.
My first response upon reading the piece was instant disagreement; after all to blame local councils for the DCLG’s dysfunction seemed a bit rich and a little like blaming the victim. From where I sit the DCLG (politically) has spent the last 3 years systematically criticising local authorities and using them as the ‘other’ in an attempt to show that the Government are on the side of the general public. Meanwhile, ministers in that department have presided over a unprecedented cut to local authority budgets (disproportionate to those faced by other departments) and done relatively little to set a positive future agenda for local government.
So what of local government’s role in this?