19th March 2014
Over the past six months or so we have been running a series of posts looking at how the relations between central and local government can be improved. Underpinning all the posts has been an assumption, which we still stand by, that relations between central and local government are less than optimum. Indeed, we believe them to be downright broken.
However, what if this is not the case?
At the recent ‘Yes Minister; Yes Councillor’ event I asked the four panellists what could be done to improve local and central relations and, realising that I’d stated my prejudice without caveat, whether they agreed with the premise of the question. Surprisingly to me, most of the panel disagreed with the premise and said that, on the contrary, they thought that relations between central and local government were good. What’s more they were of the opinion that there was actually a lot of movement between the two sectors.
Now, a panel speaking at an event about working in local and central government is always going to more aware of the cross-fertilisation between the two sectors but nonetheless it is important to consider the assumption that we’ve been working with for the past few months.
There were three key arguments that I picked up from the panel against our presumption:
1) There are lots of people in the civil service that have previously worked in local government and vice versa
This has not been my experience at all but the more I thought about it the more I wondered whether the reason was due to seniority. The panel were fairly senior and perhaps there is more movement between the sectors at the more senior levels (a point that intuitively makes sense due to the closed nature of civil service recruitment at the more junior levels).
If this is the case then perhaps this mitigates some of the lack of cross-fertilisation further down through the civil service and town halls. However, I still believe that this relationship between local and central government and their staff needs to happen far earlier in individual staff member’s career.
2) Consultation between central and local government is actually fairly good
Again, my experience is very different but then again it would be. You can’t expect central government to engage with all 400ish local authorities on every policy. Instead they rely on relations with a few trusted contacts and peak organisations such as the LGA.