Local authorities and climate change: responding to the green challenge

Jon Bloomfield

What lies ahead for local government in 2021? We know the pandemic will continue to loom large. But all the signs are that with the UK hosting the crucial, international climate change conference (COP26) in Glasgow next November, the issue of climate change will be high on the policy agenda.

Over the last 18 months many towns and cities have responded to the growing environmental emergency and declared their commitment to go carbon-neutral. In early December, 38 local authority leaders committed to cut their own carbon emissions to net zero by 2030. Among the leaders to sign the net zero pledge set out by the NGO UK 100 are the metro mayors of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, plus council leaders in Birmingham, Bristol and Edinburgh. Together the signatories represent almost a third of the U.K. population. A  Zoom virtual conference saw more than 500 council leaders and officers participating.

The international political climate is favourable. Reversing four decades of Washington neo-liberal consensus, the International Monetary Fund has given its seal of approval to public investment strategies irrespective of the rising debt consequence. The national mood music is positive too. Boris Johnson’s 10 point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution recognised that we need a low carbon transition transforming all sectors in the economy. In the lingering shadow of Trumpist climate denialism, it was reassuring. The really tough question is how to make good on these national and local targets. The words are easy: the action is harder.

What is the best pathway to follow? The green recovery should focus on the exploitation of what we already know can fulfil a low carbon, ‘levelling up’ agenda. Here there are three key policy arenas, energy, mobility and buildings and in all three,  local authorities, their staff, community groups and local neighbourhoods have key roles to play.

Take buildings. The country needs a large-scale programme of state investment in the regions to both reduce emissions and create jobs. The quickest and simplest way to do that is to focus on decarbonising our building and housing stock. Renovation works are labour-intensive, create jobs and the investments are rooted in local supply chains.  Central to green recovery should be programmes where budgets are devolved to enable localities to design initiatives appropriate to their needs, in partnership with local stakeholders. That means looking to develop neighbourhood schemes so that entire streets are renovated together, rather than the government’s current green grants to individual householders. A community approach would bring economies of scale; permit accredited programmes with approved contractors; enable retrofit to be undertaken along with boiler replacements and renewable energy installations; introduce smart, digital appliances; and   on-street vehicle charging infrastructure. In other words, a comprehensive approach that takes citizens with you. Neighbourhood renovation and refurbishment offers lots of new jobs across the whole of the UK, with warmer homes, lower fuel bills and plenty of opportunities across the building supply chain. Plus a chance to engage local people in the revitalisation of their own streets and communities. What’s not to like?

But this all requires council officers to have the understanding and grasp of climate change transitions thinking and with the social and participatory skills to engage with neighbourhood and local groups. Climate change policies cannot be simply imposed from above. A huge social challenge won’t be addressed without some friction and tension. As we have seen with the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods policy over the last few months, if people aren’t engaged, then suddenly vocal resistance to these measures can arise.

Addressing climate change means we shall have to alter the ways that we live, move and work. The issues of climate transition are effectively an emerging policy arena. They require an understanding and marshalling of a new combination of skills amongst a wide cadre of local government officers, councillors and engaged citizens. Planners, traffic engineers, housing officers, finance and procurement staff: these and more all need additional skill-sets. Councils can set ambitious targets. But unless they have the staff within their ranks with the competence and skills to tackle them, then they will fall short.

Jon Bloomfield has been involved with the EU’s Climate KIC programme for over a decade, helping to develop educational and training programmes and experimental projects which help companies, cities and communities to make effective transitions to a low carbon economy.

Covid, Recovery and Hope

Cllr Ketan Sheth

As we reflect to 2020: it is a far cry from what we hoped for and expected from 2020. At a time like this, it’s important we rethink our goals to create and maintain hope.

Do you know that life expectancy went up in England in the Second World War?

Seems at odds with the facts doesn’t it but alongside the horror and causalities there was a great community feeling – we were all in this together, we came together  and we pulled together – and health got better!

So there’s something of a lesson in that for us today.

Covid has been terrible – whilst some people can get the virus and not feel any symptoms at all, there are others – particularly our senior citizens we know as mums and dads, grans, grandads, uncles and aunties  – for whom it is devastating.

We all know people who have lost close relatives – I lost two close relatives too, very close together – and one way of remembering them is to keep ourselves, and therefore others, safe.

Being a Community is hard when we cannot really meet together, cannot sing in our churches and temples or shout at football – but we are all, truly, in this together.

We should all remember Tuesday, the 8th December – the day of hope – when we began to fight back and the vaccine began its work.

It’s perfectly natural for all of us to have questions – and to ask them openly – and to ask the experts.

Beware of social media ‘experts’ who really only make things worse by twisting genuine questions into fear and extinguishing hope – not so much a secret conspiracy but a conspiracy against hope.

And let’s also remember the things that work – Hands Face Space – washing hands regularly, wearing a face covering and leaving space between us – proven to build barriers against this killer and preventing those of us who might carry the virus without feeling it, from passing it on to those who are not be so lucky; we owe it to those we love and care about the most – because we love and care for them.

Covid also brought huge worries too – people not going to hospital when they really should or people who are anxious and worried or fearful – there are NHS services there to help us – please do so.

The Office for National Statistics say 1 in 3 of us are more worried about money, one in six worried about their jobs and one in 12 worried about food. Just think about that — and help.

Hope is important – and it is in those vials being delivered to vaccination hubs now,  quite rightly for our most vulnerable citizens and those workers on the front line – especially in health and social care but also those other heroes on the buses, tubes, shop workers – 10m million people, heroes all, who kept our society going and we owe them all huge thanks .

But there are heroes in every family – those who just do the things that families do – they follow the rules  – we may miss the touch but we can put an arm round the whole community – ask after one another – just chat, keep calm and take care.

Emily Dickinson, the American poet, wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Hope is the further shore we can reach from here. My seasons greetings  to you all!

Cllr Ketan Sheth is Chair of the Brent Council Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee

Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris and me

Chris Game

If only Birmingham weren’t in Tier 3 … I could prop up bars in city centre pubs, casually conversing with fascinated fellow-drinkers: “You know that Kamala Harris, the American Vice-President-elect – yeah, the one wearing the Elvis-style white trouser ‘power suit’ for her victory speech.

“Well, I was a professorial contemporary of her Dad, Donald, at California’s prestigious Stanford University, don’t you know?  Thanks, mine’s another Plum Porter.”

Sadly, with Plum Porter purveyors currently closed, I’m driven to search for alternative captive audiences.  However, in contrast to bits of the current series of The Crown, this boast, while it may not ‘ring true’, actually IS true.  Before coming to INLOGOV in 1979 my employers for the previous five years were indeed Stanford – the posh, private, but definitely prestigious university north-westish of Silicon Valley.  

At least, that was Kamala’s Dad’s main workplace – I said ‘contemporary’ not ‘colleague’!  Mine was Stanford’s British Studies Center – note the spelling – at the also posh but less sunshiny Cliveden House on a National Trust estate near Maidenhead, where some hundred or so American students would come to spend two or three semesters of their undergrad years.

And the ‘Professor’ bit?  Well, as everyone knows, almost all US university academics have that generic title. ‘Full’ Professors are the real deal, while my Cliveden colleagues and I were ‘academic personnel’ – but on envelopes from HQ ‘Assistant Professors’.

It’s been mildly disquieting to see some UK universities going down the ‘Assistant Professor’ route – Warwick, for instance – but I’m not in the least bitter. I just regret not saving at least a few of those envelopes, because in four subsequent Birmingham decades I never managed even that.

Jamaican-born former economics Professor Donald Harris is/was at the distant other end of the scale: an Emeritus Professor since retiring early from Stanford after an exceptionally distinguished career and numerous international academic awards.

Here’s the thing, though.  Harris joined Stanford in 1972, yet in my creepily retained 600-page 1974/5 Stanford University Bulletin we Clivedenites and our taught courses all get several individual mentions, yet Donald not one.  Which, for apparently “the first Black person to receive tenure in Stanford’s economics department”, seemed rather odd.

Still, it provides a link to his elder daughter’s string of ‘firsts’ that actually prompted this blog: the first major personal career choice made by the first woman, first African American, and first Asian-American US Vice-President-elect.  California-born – for those, like President Trump, still questioning her Presidential eligibility; and her name, incidentally, pronounced not at all like ‘Pamela’, but ‘Comma-lah’ – from the Sanscrit for lotus flower.

Which is also relevant, because Kamala’s parents divorced when she was just seven, meaning she and her sister, Maya, were brought up largely by their Indian-born mother, Shyamala Gopalan – a bio-medical scientist, whose career in breast cancer research was every bit as outstanding as her husband’s, but who in 2009 would die of cancer herself.

It was her mother’s acceptance of a research post at McGill University Hospital in French-speaking Montreal that chiefly determined that Kamala went first to a French-speaking elementary school.  Then her mother moved the family again, so Kamala could attend Westmount High School, Quebec’s only public school offering so-called Advanced Placement courses for potentially university/college credit.

That university/college choice in by now the early 1980s, though, was definitely Kamala’s. After several majority-white schools, and her parents working in eminent but predominantly white institutions, she sought a wholly different experience. Young, gifted and black, she would live, learn, socialise, and at times protest against South African apartheid, with black students in a black university in a black city.

She would therefore attend one of the hundred or so HBCUs – Historically Black Colleges and Universities – and arguably the most renowned: Howard University in Washington DC, the African American community’s ‘Chocolate City’. And a short subway ride to both her current Capitol Hill workplace in the Senate and her future one in the White House. Back then it was no part of any life plan, but it can serve as a useful putdown today to those who accuse her of being ‘not really black’ or ‘not black enough’.

In the early 1970s Stanford University – students and staff – was unmistakeably Californian and white.  But I remember quite early learning of and being fascinated by the whole HBCU concept – partly because of the then still relatively recent appointment of Thurgood Marshall as the first African American Supreme Court judge.

The HBCU initialism itself – not technically an acronym – is comparatively recent, a product of the historic 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Higher Education Acts. But the Black Colleges themselves date back in some cases 170+ years to before the Civil War and abolition of slavery.

Even following abolition, certainly in the Southern states, there was a century of institutionalised racial segregation of housing, medical care, employment, transportation and, of course, education.  And even universities and colleges that didn’t completely bar African Americans usually applied tight quotas, with all the other manifestations of discrimination.

One of those barred was future Justice Thurgood Marshall. He had applied to the University of Maryland Law School and been rejected through its segregation policy effectively banning blacks studying with whites.  He therefore attended and graduated with distinction from, yes, Howard University Law School – and later successfully sued Maryland for its discriminatory admissions policy.

Quite a role model, had Kamala been looking for one at the time – just as she surely will be to this and future generations of aspiring university students, female and male.

 

A version of this article appeared in The Birmingham Post on 26th November 2020.

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Chris Game is an INLOGOV Associate, and Visiting Professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, Osaka, Japan.  He is joint-author (with Professor David Wilson) of the successive editions of Local Government in the United Kingdom, and a regular columnist for The Birmingham Post.

Councils should make better use of churches to bring communities together

Dr Madeleine Pennington

As if one were needed, Croydon Council’s issue of a section 114 notice in November offered a further stark reminder of the financial challenges facing local authorities. After a decade of austerity, the pandemic is stretching (and will stretch further) councils already running on a shoestring – and one consequence of reduced public spending is a reliance on faith and community groups to plug the gap.

This phenomenon has already led to a quiet shift in the role of faith in society. Faith-based volunteer hours rose by almost 60% from 2010-2014, and in 2015 this time contribution alone was valued at £3 billion. Between 2006 and 2016, faith-based charities were the fastest growing area of the charity sector. Two thirds of the nation’s growing number of foodbanks are now coordinated by the Trussell Trust – a Christian charity whose most recent figures show an 89% increase in need for emergency food parcels in April 2020 compared to April 2019. As of 2017, 93% of Anglican churches alone were involved in foodbanks in some way.

The result is one of the unspoken paradoxes of modern society: faith is increasingly assumed to be private, and yet is becoming ever more public in some very concrete ways.

However, taking churches as a case study, research published last month by Theos think tank observes that councils’ engagement with faith groups has predominantly been driven by necessity rather than positive embrace. Nervousness around proselytism and the inclusivity of faith-based services mean that local authorities tend to work with a few churches they trust, and the level of engagement varies hugely between areas: while some councils were described as “open and willing” in this research, church-based participants in other areas felt “invisible” or viewed with “suspicion”.

At the same time, while churches are increasingly relied upon to provide necessary services, they are far less often included where the wider health and flourishing of their local communities is concerned.

This is particularly problematic given that many of the challenges facing the country (and our local communities) fundamentally go beyond a financial shortfall. The Leave campaign won on an argument that Brexit was about more than economics. So too, the pandemic is more than a public health crisis: it is an act of solidarity for individuals so profoundly to curtail their freedom to protect the most vulnerable in our communities. Likewise, our response to many other critical issues facing our society – racial injustice, loneliness, our willingness to welcome migrants – rests on investing in the strength of our common relationships.

In other words, these are social cohesion challenges – and churches are uniquely placed to meet this relational need. They provide an unrivalled source of physical capital scattered equally throughout the country, acting as the social capillaries of their communities, protecting a wellspring of formal and informal leadership, convening difficult conversations between groups, motivating individual members of their congregations to give to wider society, and seeing (and enacting) the full potential of their communities where others do not. 

Most churches have also reflected deeply on the appropriate role of faith in their community work; having an open conversation about boundaries and expectations here is far preferable to writing off their contribution altogether. But neither should councils assume the “appropriate” role of faith in the community is no role at all; rather, it is churches’ desire to love and serve their neighbours which makes them so well-equipped to serve their communities in the first place.

As budgets are further slashed in the months (and perhaps years) ahead, churches will undoubtedly be called upon even more to bridge the growing chasm between need and capacity. However, if the context of those relationships can move from a reluctant “needs must” basis to one of open and compassionate collaboration, councils may well find that churches have much more to offer than they currently are. Given the steep climb ahead, that is surely a welcome revelation. 

The Church and Social Cohesion was commissioned by the Free Churches Group, and prepared independently by Theos, and published alongside a ‘how to’ booklet for policymakers and local authorities hoping to engage better with churches. Download them here.

Dr Madeleine Pennington is head of research at the Christian thinktank Theos

This article was published in the Local Government Chronicle on 1st December 2020.

Brent’s Poverty Commission

Cllr. Ketan Sheth

Brent’s Poverty Commission is a timely description and analysis of where we are at in addressing inequality and poverty. It provides us with a pathway to change the quality of life and life chances of many of our residents.

Improving the flow of information and resources within and between public, social and economic organisations has a crucial role to play in driving up quality of life. If every organisation in our local economy were able and willing to work collaboratively to design services that optimise impact, it could lead to major improvements in outcomes.

The importance of collaboration is increasingly recognised by leaders and policymakers throughout the UK. Where we are able to match capacity and demand and enable better, truly joined-up thinking, there have been impressive results. Our aim in Brent is to provide leaders and improvement teams in our local economies with activities, methods, approaches and skills that can help to make these improvements.

The Poverty Commission describes the steps that policy formers, makers and practioners need to create an environment that is conducive to change. This means the coordination of all processes, systems and resources, across an entire local economy, to deliver effective, efficient, community-centred outcomes in the right setting at the right time and by the right agency.

If we are to tackle poverty, we should also look at how to eliminate the ‘failure demand’ – demand arising from failure to provide a service or to provide it in a timely and effective fashion – that leads to people missing out. This means a structured approach that delivers for our communities and encompasses five key areas of work:

1. Creating a space for partners to come together, build relationships, develop a sense of shared purpose and deliver co-designed solutions.

2. Understanding ‘the current state’ by enabling providers and users to work together to map the processes and identify non-value adding activities.

3. Collecting and analysing data with a view to understanding the root causes of problems and identifying potential solutions that can then be tested.

4. Developing a high level ‘future Brent’ plan underpinned by simple guiding rules that local teams have the flexibility to adapt to fit their own context.

5. Implementing solutions in which all parts of our communities have a shared stake and responsibility and providing opportunities for collaborative reflection and further refinement as outcomes emerge.

Finally, there needs to be a closer configuration between our practice of improvement – where the emphasis is on discovering a way towards a tailored-solutions. Doing so has the potential to greatly improve the quality of life for many in Brent to make their experiences an altogether better one.

Cllr Ketan Sheth is Brent Council’s Chair of the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee

Andy Burnham was right: this Prime Minister can’t handle devolution

Chris Game

Negotiate? Look what happened last time!

“Unlike previously, there will be no negotiation with local leaders … financial support will be allocated on a uniform per capita basis”.  Simply a Guardian report, not a Prime Ministerial quote, but it didn’t need to be. What happens after December 2nd, the local restriction tiers to which we’re allocated, affects every person in every English locality differently.  But discussing, never mind attempting to negotiate, with experienced elected representatives who live in and know those localities – nah! It will only complicate things, and besides, look what happened last time!

Pleasingly, thanks to ITV News and Facebook, we can. The date was October 20th; the place – Manchester’s Barbirolli Square; media briefing convenor and main speaker – Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham; in attendance – several leaders of Greater Manchester councils; topic – Prime Minister Johnson’s imposition of the most stringent Covid lockdown restrictions on Manchester city region and refusal to increase the ‘standard’ £60 million financial support even to Burnham’s ‘bare minimum’ £65 million, that had prompted the latter’s accusation that the PM was “playing poker with people’s lives.”                                                                                  

It’s both melodramatic and genuinely climactic – when Burnham learns (about 32 minutes in), from a council leader’s mobile phone, the breaking news that the PM was punishing the Mayor’s protest, and Mancunian citizens, by peremptorily withdrawing the previously promised £60 million. That it later had to be restored – not by the PM, but by Health Secretary Matt Hancock – seemed merely to confirm all initial impressions.

The following weekend, Burnham and London Mayor Sadiq Khan wrote a joint Viewpoint column in The Observer/Guardian – ‘Mayors are a force for good. And it’s time Johnson recognised that’.   

The theme is easily conveyed: “The UK nations and regions should have been the government’s biggest ally in the battle to control the spread of this virus … As mayors … we are uniquely placed to help … [we] work hand in glove with local NHS leaders and regional health experts … we have strong links with local business leaders and understand the strengths of our local economies.  Crucially – we have shown ourselves capable of reacting to events more quickly and devising more innovative solutions than national government.”

 

“Prime Minister, you can’t handle devolution!”

It was the next paragraph, though – tone and content both – that really hit home: “However, the government has at times treated us as the enemy.  Westminster has sadly shown it is not mature enough to deal with devolution (my emphasis).  The government may have all the money and power, but ministers simply cannot cope with differences, disagreements or compromise.”

Remind you of anyone?  Top 20 Movie Quote?  Jack Nicholson/Tom Cruise courtroom scene?  “You can’t handle the truth!”  Yes, Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup defending his issuing a ‘Code Red’ in ‘A Few Good Men’.  I thought so, anyway, so please bear with me.  Some brief, imagined extracts from a kind of role-reversed “You can’t handle devolution!” speech, with Andy Burnham doing the Nicholson/Jessup lines and Johnson as Cruise/Lieutenant Kaffee:

Johnson:            “You questioned my Tier 3 lockdown order?”

Burnham:          “You bet I did.”

Johnson:            “I demand to know why.”

Burnham:          “You want answers?”

Johnson:            “I want the truth!”

Burnham:          “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!   Prime Minister, we live in a world where so-called ‘local’ and devolved governments manage and finance over 1,600 separate services.  A world that has responsibility for 400,000 care home beds – in homes that have seen 40% of all Covid-19 deaths.  We’re expected to fund all this with one single local tax that you cap and inadequate grants that you either ring-fence from the start or cut later when it suits you.

Who’s going to handle that scale and scope of responsibility? You, Prime Minister?  You have your graphs of aggregated infection and death rates and make your big decisions shutting down whole communities.  But most of those communities – our communities – are in the poorest parts of the country, where poor housing, pre-existing health conditions, and decades of neglect and financial discrimination mean infection and death risks are the highest.

We, our local councillors and officers have greater responsibilities than you can possibly fathom. You have the luxury of ignoring and compounding what we know – that, despite your collective and repeated ministerial failings and private sector contracting obsessions, we have saved lives, and our existence, while inconveniencing and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.

You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you WANT us out there … you NEED us out there.  You and your manifestoes promised “full devolution across the UK”, and “an English Devolution White Paper … so every part of the country has the power to shape its own destiny.”  The truth is that there is no White Paper.  The truth is that YOU CAN’T HANDLE DEVOLUTION!”

 

When Johnson was a Mayor himself

‘Irony’ is among the most misused words in the English language, but we do seem to have a case here of either situational irony or straightforward duplicity.  A decade ago, Johnson was Khan’s predecessor as Mayor of London. Especially in his second term ‘Heineken Tory’ period, he very deliberately used London as a headline illustration of how devolved government in the UK generally was centrally over-controlled and under-funded, compared to other countries’ systems.

He established a London Finance Commission, chaired by LSE Professor Tony Travers, which swiftly produced a neatly entitled report – Raising the Capital – with some seriously radical content.

Impossible here to summarise satisfactorily, the Commission concluded that London’s growing, changing population placed increasingly acute pressure on local services, while its existing sub-national governments lacked the powers to provide effective solutions.

Under 7% of tax paid by London residents and businesses was redistributed directly by locally elected bodies; 74% of London’s funding came through central government grants – compared with Berlin’s 25%, Paris’s 17% and Tokyo’s 8%.

Taxation powers were merely one part of the required reform.  But the Commission recommended (p.11) that “the full suite of property taxes” – council tax, business rates, stamp duty, capital gains tax – be devolved to London governments, which should have responsibility for setting tax rates, revaluation, banding and discounts. There was plenty more, but the point here is less the Commission than the CommissionER. 

Ever the catchy phrase-seeker, Johnson launched his report by referring to tax-enfeebled London as “an economic and political giant but a fiscal infant …”  However, while his Commission’s proposals were for London, the Mayor himself seemed more ambitious.

So, come the 2013 Conservative Party Conference – in Manchester, by happenstance – there he was, leading a cross-party campaign with the London Councils and Core Cities Groups – the latter comprising then, pre-devolution, the Leaders of the eight major English cities, including Sir Richard Leese, then-as-now Leader of Manchester City Council and also Burnham’s Deputy Mayor, whose mobile phone would be the one conveying to Mayor Burnham the PM’s Greater Manchester lockdown news.

Piquant, isn’t it!  Because, back then, Johnson was asserting that England was much too centralised and calling for a comparable suite of fiscal reforms for England’s largest cities. Ever the historian manqué, it would be an “historic and significant move … a partial but practical answer to the conundrum of English devolution … good not just for the cities involved, but for the country at large.”

 

What changed, what didn’t – the current state of English devolution

Financially, of course, nothing fundamentally changed.  London could still be tagged a tax-enfeebled “fiscal infant”, the difference being that it is now blatantly treated as such by its former Mayor.  As recently, when the now PM resorted to apparently “lying to Parliament” about Mayor Sadiq Khan’s financial management of Transport for London, before grudgingly granting a £1.8 billion bailout and dropping demands for fare increases. Greater Manchester, London – you may sense a certain pattern emerging.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), as it happens, was the first of these new devolution models to have been launched – by the Labour Government back in 2011, although its actual Treasury-negotiated ‘City Deal’ didn’t happen until November 2014, shortly after the Scottish independence referendum. It established the pattern, though, for the now 10 CAs – 8 Mayoral, 2 (West Yorkshire and the North East) currently non-mayoral – set up by two or more neighbouring councils wishing to co-ordinate responsibilities and powers over services such as transport, skills training, economic development, housing and social care.

However, since the most recently created, North of Tyne, was in November 2018, the policy has effectively stalled.  The October 2019 Queen’s Speech promised a White Paper with plans for “unleashing regional potential in England”, replicated almost verbatim on p.29 of the Conservative Manifesto: “full devolution across England … so that every part of our country has the power to shape its own destiny.”  

 

“Full devolution across England” – or have things gone backwards?

In normal times one would now turn straight to the Institute for Government’s Policy Tracker for the first 100 days of the Johnson Government.  As comprehensive as ever, it compared ‘Commitment’ to ‘Current status’ for some 28 policy fields – one of which was to “Publish an English Devolution White Paper” … “Yet to commence”.

In fairness, it was far from the only such pledge, and the first Covid cases had been diagnosed about halfway through the 100 days.  Understandably, the agenda changed, as in July did the proposed title – to the ‘Local Economic Recovery and Devolution White Paper’, though the envisaged content and appearance dates stayed as vague as ever.  Through the summer it was to be September, then the Conservative Conference in October, then “Autumn”, then “on the back burner, pending a rethink” or simply “in due course”.

But, while ministers did their thing, local councillors recalled Robert Jenrick, Housing, Communities & Local Government Secretary, opining that he saw no “long-term future” for two-tier local government.  Cue serious speculation about just how large and non-local single-tier ‘local’ authorities might be – 300,000 minimum? 500,000? 1 million? – drawing lines on maps and speculating about how many fewer councillors there might be.

Meanwhile, ministers specifically responsible for local government came and went – one, Simon Clarke, just possibly, I suggested in these columns, because he became overly enthusiastic about anything describable as “the greatest decentralisation of power in our modern history”.  

I may have been wrong in detail, but right in practice. For Sir Bob Kerslake, former Head of the Home Civil Service and Chair of the UK2070 Commission, recently reckoned the White Paper is “postponed until 2021 – and the local government reforms scaled back. Its emphasis will be less on devolution – it does feel like it has gone backwards” – and recently, it seems, at gathering speed.   

First it was Scotland, with the self-isolating PM struggling to explain which kind of devolution was disastrous and which he supported, and then clarifying completely that, come the end of this lockdown, there would be no repeat of Barbirolli Square.  Quite simply, “there will be no negotiation with local leaders”.

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Chris Game is an INLOGOV Associate, and Visiting Professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, Osaka, Japan.  He is joint-author (with Professor David Wilson) of the successive editions of Local Government in the United Kingdom, and a regular columnist for The Birmingham Post.