“The Greatest Political Party on Earth” – Prime Ministerial hyperbole

Chris Game

Reader alert!  This blog’s sole excuse is its loose topicality. Its connection with local government, certainly, is tenuous in the extreme, and needs rationalising right away.

My chief role in INLOGOV, throughout most of my time as a full-time employee, was as Convenor of its undergraduate degree, latterly entitled the BSc in Public Policy, Government & Management. When we launched its predecessor in the early 1980s, ICT was in its youth, if not infancy. PowerPoint presentations, when they arrived, were seriously challenging, and one was constantly looking out for new IT developments that might illustrate current events and generally enhance the student learning experience.

The technology left me behind years ago, but the fascination with entertaining visual aids remained. Meanwhile, we quickly learnt that casually deployed, but now much more easily checkable, references and assertions, particularly superlatives, were a gift to the evolving technology. I was naturally aroused, therefore, by our new PM’s extraordinary phraseology in acknowledging her leadership victory: “Thank you for putting your faith in me to lead our great Conservative Party, the greatest political party on Earth.”

Never mind that she hadn’t had the faith of even half of that party’s modest-sized 170,437-member electorate.  Why the senseless GPPoE bit?  ‘Oldest PPoE’ might just have worked – by treating the C17th Tory Party’s demise in the 1830s and 1840s as an evolution, rather than dissolution, into the Conservative Party.

‘Great’, though – definitionally, etymologically – is chiefly and initially about large size. But accuracy, etymology, or even common sense clearly aren’t what Liz Truss is about, and I half-thought, therefore, of trying to make a blog out of it.

At that point, though, I hadn’t fully grasped, in addition, the extreme limitation of the Truss vocabulary, and there was suddenly more material to work with: the PM’s apparently considered evaluation, to her fellow MPs, of the late Queen as “one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known”.

Apart from the “one of”, no qualification or explication in sight. No “constitutional”, or “peacetime”, or even “modern-day”. Not “one of the world’s most recognisable faces”, possibly after Hitler. Or one of the most photographed. Not even one of the greatest women leaders, which would get rid of all those tricky men – Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Buddha, Confucius, Gandhi, Einstein, Mandela and the rest of the usual crew.

Actually, “one of the greatest women leaders” might at least have generated some informative debate. Elizabeth II’s chief competition would then have been merely Elizabeth I (obviously), Russia’s Catherine the Great, Austria’s Maria Theresa, and, with perhaps 30 seconds Googling, probably Ancient Egypt’s Pharoah Hatshepsut, and China’s C19th Empress Dowager Cixi.

If there really has to be a QEII superlative, there’s possibly “the most recognisable face in the world”. “Head of the world’s most effective democratic monarchy” could have done – interesting, and still a pretty big deal – but might have required a few seconds’ thought. And, pleasingly, that’s just what it got – even including a superlative. Not from Truss, but from local government, or, more specifically, LGIU Chief Executive, Jonathan Carr: “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – our country’s greatest public servant”.

Sadly, though, it seems we’re simply going to have to get used to these ludicrous hyperboles as a Truss ‘thing’, though hopefully, PLEASE, not on a twice weekly basis. Meanwhile, back to her “greatest political party on Earth”, and, while there’s no knowing what, if anything much, she may have had in mind, it almost certainly wasn’t anything measurable or internationally comparable.

‘Great’, though, remains in the first instance a size adjective; so, as they say, needs must. Membership size of national parties is one of the many countable phenomena nowadays measured and compared – skilfully, entertainingly, and literally movingly by YouTube Ranking Charts. Other providers are available, but in my limited, amateurish judgement, these are the most comprehensive, user-friendly, and have the better background music tracks.

I’m a fan, and, were I still lecturing, the charts would be an early student recommendation. Not, sadly, in most cases for any immediate relevance to the world of local government, but for their sheer fun – and, by my reckoning, the products of often quite impressive research. 

The above link will get you to a whole catalogue of charts, usually headed by the ever popular ‘Top 10 Largest Armies in the World, 1816-2021’, which will serve as a brief illustration – yes, that’s 205 years of annual rankings, Napoleon to Putin.  Actually, Putin would be dead envious. In 1816 Russia’s 800,000 ‘Active Military Personnel’ easily outnumbered the world’s next four largest armies – the UK (255,000), Austrian Empire, France and Prussia – combined.

A century later in WWI we had 4.4 million troops, behind only the German Empire, Russia and France, and in WWII that increased to over 5 million – modest compared to the US and the Soviet Union (10 million+), but comparable to Nazi Germany and Japan, and, unsurprisingly, way ahead of France.

We finally dropped off the Top 10 chart altogether in 1963, as eventually did France in 1991. And today, if you were wondering … Russia’s I million+ troops rank them in a rather modest 5th place, behind China 2.1 mill., India 1.5 mill., the US 1.4 mill., and North Korea 1.3 mill.

Apologies for that even further digression. Back to “the greatest political party on Earth” – by registered party membership. The principle is the same as for ‘Largest Armies’ – annually reported, with the totals, bar lengths and positions constantly changing, starting here in 1950, rather than 1816; checked and validated as much as possible, which explains the present-day absence of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Missing too is the UK Conservative Party – because, well, you can guess from all the other figures running into the several millions how far down the list its 172,437 would be.

To summarise: largest parties in 1950 were the US Democrats and Republicans (7.2 and 6.5 million members respectively), followed by the Communist Party of China (CCP) (6.5m) and the Indian National Congress. Not making the chart, but impressive in their way, the Conservatives’ membership would have been in the high 2 millions (including at least my father, not sure about mother) with Labour, excluding affiliated TU members, around 1 million.

Within two years the CCP had overtaken both US parties individually, and by the mid-1970s both combined. By 2019 it had 90,000 members, the two US parties 77,000 between them.  All three combined, however, had long since been massively overtaken by India’s Baratiya Janata Party (BJP), Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party.

Founded in a 1970s multi-party merger, the BJP had grown gradually, topping 5 million members for the first time in 1993, compared to the Indian National Congress Party’s 13 million. By 2002, however, its then 15 million members had overtaken the Congress Party, following which it grew fast and steadily, reaching 38 million in 2006, overtaking the Chinese Communist Party’s 78 million in 2010, and in 2014, with 129 million members sweeping to national power under Modi, who remains PM today.  

And that, Prime Minister, is what the currently “Greatest Political Party on Earth” looks like.

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.

Voter ID gets Code Red

Picture credit: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/why-the-governments-mandatory-voter-id-plans-are-a-terrible-idea/

Jason Lowther & Chris Game

‘Code Red’, for anyone even approaching the generation of this blog’s more senescent author, has to cue the memorable final Tom Cruise/Jack Nicholson courtroom scene in Aaron Sorkin’s film, A Few Good Men. Indeed, said author has actually adapted and used it previously in these very columns:

Lieut. Kaffee (Cruise): “Did you order the Code Red?”  Col. Jessup (Nicholson): “YOU’RE GODDAMNED RIGHT I DID!!!”

In the film, ‘Code Red’ is a term used for any extra-judicial punishment or action taken against US marines for the purposes of humiliation or worse. Its function is, essentially, to deal with issues that can’t be solved using the normal legal framework.

In substantial contrast, the UK Government’s Code Red, though hardly a regular feature of our media’s political reporting, is at the very core of our modern-day governmental system. It is a (arguably the) key instrument of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), the Government’s centre of expertise for infrastructure and major projects, reporting to the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury.

Formed in 2016, the IPA’s intended function is to increase government efficiency and save public money by monitoring and ‘scoring’ the viability of its literally hundreds of infrastructure and major projects … and does so with an effectiveness that has some Ministers in the present Government viewing it as more of a PI(the)A.  

This already substantial introduction does have a local government-relevant point – promise!  And it is no blog’s function to deliver lecturettes, which in this instance are both available and well illustrated, from the Institute for Government and the IPA itself in its very recent 2022 Annual Report.

What follow, therefore, are a few shortish paragraphs outlining the IPA’s work, and two graphics from that 2022 Report worth, if not the proverbial thousand words, certainly a good many. We then focus on the issue of voter ID in England, reporting the government’s own assessment on the risks involved, and conclude that Government has still not yet shown how voter ID will operate in England without adversely affecting certain minority and disadvantaged groups.

The focus of the IPA’s work is the Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP), comprising this year 235 projects with a total Whole Life Cost of £678bn and estimated “monetised benefits” of £726bn, delivered by 18 departments and their arm’s-length bodies.

The projects are divided functionally into four categories, biggest-spending being Infrastructure & Construction (70 projects: £339 bill. whole life cost; £356 bill. “monetised benefits”) – high investment projects, including improving the UK’s energy, environment, transport, telecoms, sewage and water systems, and constructing new public buildings. Dominated financially, and in the IPA’s ‘unfeasible’ delivery confidence rankings, by the Dept for Transport’s HS2 (£72 – 98 billion) and Crossrail (£19 billion+) projects.

Transformation and service delivery covers projects changing ways of working to improve the relationship between government and the UK people, and harnessing new technology. Example: Vaccines Task Force.

Military Capability ispretty self-explanatory. Example: the Future Combat Air System – clever, mid-2030s stuff like uncrewed aircraft and advanced data systems.

ICT projects enable the “transition from old legacy systems to new digital solutions” to equip government departments for the future. Example: Emergency Services Mobile Communications.

Now to the interesting bit: the actual ‘confidence rankings’, or in the above cases of HS2 and Crossrail ‘no confidence rankings’. The official term is Delivery Confidence Assessments (DCAs): judgements of the likelihood of a project delivering its objectives to time and cost.

In essence, it’s a basic traffic light system. Green represents high likelihood of successful delivery of the project on time, budget and quality; amber: successful delivery feasible, but significant issues already exist, requiring management attention; and ‘Code Red’: unachievable, not a cat in hell’s chance; major issues everywhere, with project definition, schedule, budget, benefits – all at this stage apparently irresolvable.

Given the variables involved, it sounds more than a touch crude, and two additional ratings were added: amber/green – successful delivery probable, if given constant attention; and amber/red – successful delivery doubtful, major risks apparent in numerous key areas, urgent action needed.

Usefully added, it seemed, as unqualified amber regularly took between 40% and 50% of ratings (see Fig.7 below). But no, looked at another way, the “average project rating worsened from Amber/Green in 2013 to Amber in 2020” (p.16). It obviously couldn’t possibly be the quality of the proposed projects, so it had to be the assessment system, which accordingly for the 2022 assessments was changed.

But oops! The number of red assessments nearly quadrupled, almost equalling the previous four years’ red totals between them – but that’s OK, because the average project rating, we are assured, “has improved over the past two years”, though it’s not entirely transparent in the second flow chart.

Which brings us back to Code Reds.  Unlock Democracy, the democratic reform campaign group – and also the Daily Mirror – reported last week that “the Government’s own rating system has given the Elections Bill implementation a code red, which is defined as successful delivery of the project appear[ing] to be unachievable.”  Followed by the Association of Electoral Administrators announcing that it “no longer believes it is possible to successfully introduce Voter ID in May 2023.”

The Government’s “Electoral Integrity Programme (EIP)” has been red rated in the IPA’s annual report (see page 58).  The report summarises the Programme as ‘implementing changes arising from the Elections Bill. The Elections Bill makes provision about the administration and conduct of elections, including provision to strengthen the integrity of the electoral process. Reforms will cover: overseas electors; voting and candidacy rights of EU citizens; the designation of a strategy and policy statement for the Electoral Commission; the membership of the Speaker’s Committee; the Electoral Commission’s functions in relation to criminal proceedings; financial information to be provided by a political party on applying for registration; preventing a person being registered as a political party and being a recognised non-party campaigner at the same time; regulation of expenditure for political purposes; disqualification of offenders for holding elective offices; information to be included in electronic campaigning material’.

DLUHC’s commentary on this result noted the deteriorating assessment and added: ‘The IPA Gate 0 Review of February 2022 concluded that the programme Delivery Confidence Assessment is rated Red and that the programme needs to address key risks related to the suitability of the structure, approach and governance given its complexity and delivery focus, suitability of its minimum viable and digital products, and its lack of contingency to deliver against immovable deadlines’.

Reassuringly, the department felt that ‘the programme is addressing these points’.   Meanwhile, the estimated ‘whole life costs’ of the programme jumped from just under £120m to over £145m.

Unlock Democracy’s Tom Brake has reportedly written to Levelling Up SoS Greg Clark saying ‘It would be highly risky to attempt the first roll out of photo voter ID for the largest election in the UK, without having tested it on lower turnout elections beforehand’.  This echoes Jason Lowther’s comment on this blog almost a year ago that ‘The Government has not yet shown how voter ID will operate in England without adversely affecting certain minority and disadvantaged groups.  Until issues such as costs and access are fully addressed, it needs to proceed with caution’.

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.

Jason Lowther is the Director of INLOGOV. His research focuses on public service reform and the use of “evidence” by public agencies.  Previously he worked with West Midlands Combined Authority, led Birmingham City Council’s corporate strategy function, worked for the Audit Commission as national value for money lead, for HSBC in credit and risk management, and for the Metropolitan Police as an internal management consultant. He tweets as @jasonlowther

Theresa Stewart: Leader, Lord Mayor, Councillor and Mother

Chris Game

A few months ago, in blogging about ‘Women in West Midlands Governance’, I noted that in 1975 – not special, simply the year that had prompted the blog – 21 or 17% of Birmingham City Councillors had been women. They included “Theresa Stewart … a future Leader of the Council, Birmingham Lord Mayor, and wife of a Professor John Stewart”, who himself was, of course, for nearly 30 years an INLOGOV Professor, and builder, shaper and almost embodiment of the institution it would become.

There was no cause to mention in that blog that Theresa Stewart had in fact died, aged 90, during the first year of Covid, in November 2020. It did, however, mean that the City Council’s formal Thanksgiving Service for the Life of Honorary Alderman Theresa Stewart – Birmingham (Labour) City Councillor (1970-2002), its so far only female Leader (1993-99), and Lord Mayor (2000-01) – was indefinitely postponed.      

From a purely personal viewpoint, but also arguably more generally, it was one of the more fortuitous Covid postponements. As a work colleague of her husband, Professor John Stewart, I knew Theresa for nearly four decades, including as one of their countless serendipitous chauffeurs.

However, had the Council’s commemoration event not been Covid-prevented from being held relatively soon after her death, I’m not sure it would necessarily have taken the informal, inclusive, family-led and, yes, appropriately celebratory form that it eventually did. Or indeed that I – and possibly even the Clarion Singers’ delightful ‘socialist choir’ – would necessarily have made the invitation list.  

As it was, though, the Thanksgiving took place over an early June lunchtime in the so-called Banqueting Suite in the Council House home of the City Council in Victoria Square. And yes, there were socialist anthems, food, and much non-alcoholic and cross-party mingling after the ‘Service’ itself.

Moreover, the enforced delay allowed the celebration to be highlighted by the formal unveiling – by the Stewarts’ daughter, Selina, and grandchildren – of the portrait commissioned to celebrate their mother/grandmother’s unique contribution to Birmingham’s civic life.  I say ‘portrait’, but the Council seem commendably to prefer ‘artwork’, as I’d guess does Michelle Turton, the Birmingham-based illustrator who created it.  

It should by now be viewable in the Council House’s (Dame) Ellen Pinsent Room – thus renamed in 2018 after the city’s first female (Liberal Unionist) councillor, who, like so many of Birmingham’s subsequent women councillors and MPs, was elected by Edgbaston voters, as a Liberal Unionist in 1911.

The formal rededication of the former committee room had been undertaken by then Honorary Alderman Theresa Stewart in 2018, and both, pleasingly, are now among the 30+ exceptional ‘Pinsent Room women’ – from Olympic heptathlete Denise Lewis to Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai – whose achievements are celebrated in Louise Palfreyman’s fascinating 2018 book, Once Upon a Time in Birmingham: Women Who Dared to Dream.

As already indicated, the commissioned portrait was a kind of double bonus of the Covid postponement – in its own right, but also in its directly involving younger generations of the Stewart family, always at the heart, in every sense, of Theresa’s exceptional life of public and political service.

Not primarily, on this occasion, her lifelong work for, obviously, the Labour Party; or even the almost countless other causes for which she influentially campaigned – hospital standards, the Birmingham Pregnancy Advisory Service (which she founded), family allowances (going to mothers), CND, the miners’ strike, and indeed, just about every aspect of social services and education.

No – for arguably the most striking feature of Theresa Stewart’s ceaselessly active, seven-days-a-week, public life is that already alluded to: that it was totally interwoven with her family life – her immediate and extended family of 17 grand- and great-grandchildren and counting.   

The other obvious feature is that it was very largely focused on ‘local’ government. Exceptionally large-scale local, given it was Birmingham, but, while turning the initially marginal Billesley ward into pretty safe Labour, she resisted most of what must have been regular opportunities to at least consider Westminster – at a time, pre-1997, when under 5% of MPs were women.

Things have progressed, somewhat. Paulette Hamilton’s recent Erdington by-election win increased Labour’s women MPs to 52%, but the Commons total is still barely one-third and the proportion of mothers significantly lower still.

Which is why ‘Dirty Mother Pukka’ – aka Walthamstow Labour MP – Stella Creasy recently launched her VoteMama UK campaign, modelled on the US VoteMama movement. Its MotheRED grants of up to £2,000 are as timely as ever, at least helping – in the absence of maternity rights for MPs – to cover campaign childcare costs and encourage more mothers to stand for Parliament.

Early indications are that even these modest subsidies are attracting particularly single mothers and BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) women. Yet one more worthy cause which Honorary Alderman Theresa Stewart would undoubtedly have backed with enthusiasm.

Pictured: Emeritus Professor John Stewart; Selina Stewart; C’llr Brigid Jones,
Deputy Leader, Birmingham City Council

If anyone would like to see a copy of the Service ‘programme’ – with summaries of Theresa’s life and Council record, and the tributes by Baroness Estelle Morris, Steve McCabe MP, Deputy Council Leader Brigid Jones, and Sir Michael Lyons – a small number are available via [email protected]

__________________________

A version of this blog appeared in the Birmingham Post on 30th June – https://www.pressreader.com/uk/birmingham-post/20220630/textview

The role of scrutiny in navigating our new health and care economy

Picture credit: https://www.gponline.com/deadline-extended-gp-access-cover-england-brought-forward/article/1456385

Cllr Ketan Sheth

Mortality rates during the pandemic laid bare the health inequalities that exist across the country. Behind these figures lie human stories and grieving families that should remind us of the urgency and importance of understanding and addressing these inequalities.

In Brent, an ethnically diverse North West London borough, we recently set out to do just that.

Systems thinking

We know that Brent residents, who are from ethnic minority communities, disabled, or who are in poverty, experience significant health inequalities; but what does that look like in practice? How are our healthcare systems contributing to and/or compounding inequality? And what can be done to resolve this challenge?

Usually, GPs are the first point of call when someone is not feeling quite right. They ought to help everyone to access timely and safe healthcare. Therefore, reviewing access to GP services is critical and we decided to focus a dedicated scrutiny task group for eight months to report.

By giving ourselves time to understand this complex area in detail, we developed a deep comprehension of the landscape we were going to scrutinise. Patient voices are at the heart of our work, and we worked closely with Brent Healthwatch to ensure those from communities that have been under-represented in these conversations in the past, as well as those experiencing the worst health outcomes, were able to articulate and share their experiences.

Also, the task group held a number of evidence sessions over the course of six months, which were attended by stakeholders across Brent’s health economy. This included council officers, local commissioners and service providers.

All of this enabled the team to make a number of practical recommendations to  Brent Council and NHS partners.

Our work focused on three pivotal areas: Demand, Access and Barriers

With the dynamics of our healthcare and well-being landscape changing locally as well as nationally, it is more vital than ever to ensure all our residents have equality of access and consumption of healthcare services.

We found repeatedly that some groups of patients experience significant, and unnecessary, barriers, specifically:

• Patients of low-income

• Patients with a disability

• Older patients

• Patients whose first language is not English

• Children and young people

• Refugees and asylum seekers

• Patients who cannot access digital technology

Knowing this, GP services must seek to reduce and resolve the barriers experienced by patients, with a focus on deprivation, ethnicity, disability, and other protected characteristics as described in the Equalities Act 2010, if we are to execute our duties under the Act.

We recognise that rising demand, changing patient expectations and workforce retention issues continue to place pressures on primary care. Therefore, it is essential that the NHS continues to plan for this and uses the expertise of healthcare professionals across the system.

The digital transformation to healthcare, brought about by the pandemic, although helpful to some, introduced additional barriers for other people and communities.

In acknowledging the varying levels of ease in which patients access GP service, we strongly believe an access and treatment standard ought to be developed. This will ensure that Brent residents experience consistent and high levels of service: whether their requests are routine or urgent, focused on physical or mental wellness; or made via the telephone, online or in-person.

Our work has been conducted in the spirit of cooperation and partnership, and particularly, we look forward to continuing our dialogue and work with our partners across Brent’s health economy to evolve our shared vision of GP access across Brent.

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

‘The Great Parliamentary Resistance’ – some of the outcomes

Chris Game

Back in early February, I wrote a blog dissecting one of two big and controversial Government Bills involved in what I slightly hyperbolically termed the “historic Monday evening of the Great Parliamentary Resistance” – Monday, 17th January, when the Elections Bill received its Third Commons Reading, while across the way the Lords were savaging the ‘flagship’ Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill by defeating the Government a Parliamentary record 14 times in the same sitting[1].

Both Bills, in being big and controversial, were fiercely contested throughout their Parliamentary progress and significantly amended – to the extent that my initial idea of highlighting and summarising such amendments in two linked blogs in, say, February and March, proved ludicrously unrealisable. Not least because neither received their Royal Assent until 28th April.

On the ball, as ever, Jason Lowther blogged immediately about the particular aspects of the now Elections Act with which he had been particularly concerned – the Government’s ‘solution’ to the undemonstrated ‘problem’ of ‘personation’, of having in future to show counter-signed photo ID at UK Parliamentary and English local and PCC elections.

This single blog, therefore, will attempt two ludicrously daunting tasks: (a) to at least mention some of the additional, less publicised, measures in or out of the Elections Act, and (b) similarly, but even more summarily, for the considerably more complex Police, Crime etc. Act.

There were two key and particularly controversial Elections Act proposals, that went down to the proverbial wire at the so-called Ping pong stage of the Parliamentary process (pp.79ff. of the H/Commons Library briefing noted by Jason).

First, obviously, the several proposed age-discriminatory and non-photographic forms of ID that had been in and out of the Bill throughout – mentioned again here frankly as a pretext for reminding anyone who needs it of just how long and how implacably opposed the PM himself has been to ID cards of any description, and accordingly what we can presumably look out for come Election Day.

election1

The other long-running dispute concerned the Act’s provision for the Government to set a “strategy and policy statement” for the constitutionally independent Electoral Commission.  Some suspicious Parliamentarians suggested this might go beyond scrutiny and accountability, and “potentially into providing guidance about how [the Commission carries out its] functions on a day-to-day basis”.

They wanted it “not bound by” the Government’s “statement”, but apparently they were guilty of a “mischaracterisation” of the Government’s intentions, and the relevant amendments were defeated.

The Government’s listing of the Act’s additional benefits appears, of course, on the relevant Gov.UK page – summarised under the comfort blanket of the several “greater protections” it provides for voters, and also for candidates and campaigners.

Protection from fraud through photo ID, of course, but also from intimidation at the ballot box – the latter by fines, up to 5-year bans, and even imprisonment for offenders convicted of attempting an extended definition of ‘undue influence’.

Voters with disabilities must in future be provided with specialist equipment, and may be accompanied by an adult.  And the 15-year limit on the voting rights of British ex-pats, retired or working abroad, will be removed. An estimated 3 million potential voters are currently affected by the limit, and – read into this what you will – it fulfils a pledge in three recent Conservative manifestos.

Finally – although it was actually the first bit of the legislation I blogged about, back last April – the Act will change the voting system for both Mayoral and Police & Crime Commissioner elections from the ‘transferable’/choice-extending Supplementary Vote to First Past The Post – on the basis of “no other plausible argument” than it might fractionally reduce the numbers of rejected ballots”.

I have views – as doubtless do Mayors Tracy Brabin (Lab – West Yorkshire), Ben Houchen (Cons – Tees Valley) and Andy Burnham (Lab – Greater Manchester), all recently elected after transfers – but not here.

And so to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act – a real pantechnicon of a Bill/Act, highly technical in places, with even the ‘short’ and definitely the ‘long’ (150-word) titles signalling how impossible it is seriously to summarise.

It makes major changes across the criminal justice system, significantly extending police powers and the treatment of suspected, arrested, charged and convicted offenders. Again, there is a substantial (100+ pages) Commons Library summary of the whole legislative process; also a detailed House of Lords account – presented, slightly disconcertingly, in reverse chronological order – covering the fate of at least some of the Lords’ 17th Jan. amendments.

I was never keen on listing Wiki on student reading lists, but in this case I might well make an exception.  For this blog, though, I have borrowed (sounds so much better than plagiarised!) the content of the next few paragraphs from the BBC’s summary –mainly because it focuses, as many of those Lords motions did, on the implications for and threats to the right to protest.

Until now, it has generally been the police’s responsibility, if they want to restrict a protest, to show it may result in “serious public disorder, property damage, or disruption to the life of the community” (emphasis added). They can also change/restrict the routes of marches. For major events, like the COP26 protests, details are typically agreed with the organisers weeks in advance.

The new Act enables particular measures to be designed for ‘static protests’, like those of Extinction Rebellion, whose modus operandi is to force governmental action on the “climate and ecological emergency” through non-violent civil disobedience, the occupation of roads and bridges, etc.  Start and finish times and noise limits will now be set, even for protests involving just one person, with fines up to £2,500.

Edward Colston, the C18th merchant/slave trader whose statue was pushed into Bristol docks gets his own clause, with damage to memorials earning up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has described the “rushed” legislation as creating “incredibly widely drawn” powers …”, allowing the police to stop and search anyone in the vicinity of a protest, including passers-by, people on the way to work and peaceful protesters.”

The Government/Home Office/Police viewpoint is set out in a Home Office Policy Paper.

[1] It appeared on 4th February, at the start of what proved a particularly active blogging month, with the consequence that, to access it, you may need to key ‘Older Posts’ at the end of the February 2022 selection.

Photo

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.

Empowering English local government to lead on sustainable and resilient development of their localities

Paul Corrigan and Paul Joyce

We have just been having a conversation about English local government and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. One of us had begun by being idealistic about it. Too idealistic. But our exchange led to this blog in which we end up wondering what local government can do pragmatically to encourage sustainable and resilient localities.

Let’s start with the realism. As a result of developments over the last forty years, as compared to much of Europe, English local government is an anomaly. To put it bluntly, English local government has a very low level of autonomy compared to local governments in Europe (and elsewhere), even though its national system of public governance is quite capable. Taxes are a relatively low proportion of local government revenue in the UK, and this is so in the context of a very low level of local government expenditure as a percentage of GDP. Surely, to have more autonomy in a locality local government needs to be able to find much of its revenue from locally set taxes. It is generally believed that if local government must rely on grants determined by central government, and especially if the grants are earmarked by central government for purposes decided by it, then there is little potential for local autonomy.

Countries such as Sweden, Finland, and Norway have reputations for much greater local government autonomy than the UK. These three are all countries which are rated as having very effective governance, high standards of living, high standards of health and education, and, on average, very happy citizens. Plus, they have enviable records in terms of public confidence in government, as compared to the situation in the UK over many years. It seems that you can have both good national outcomes and local government empowered with a lot of local autonomy.

We can see the financial situation of UK local government using OECD data for the year 2019:

Local government revenue and taxes (2019)

We should not give the impression that the only issue is one of finances. It is probably very important that English local government is embedded in a national system of public governance that is both strategic in character and operating in a whole-of-government manner. Arguably, the implication of such a governance system is that strategic coordination between levels of government is not attempted in a purely top-down way by central government. Another less obvious implication is that that there is a high level of social capital that local government can tap into so it can powerfully deliver sustainable development goals.

Now for the idealism. Local government has a long-term responsibility to its citizens to ensure that local communities survive and thrive for future generations. Consistent with this is the view that local governments (and regional governments) should be at the forefront of delivering the United Nation’s sustainable development goals. At the very least we can argue that local government has a critical role to play in their delivery.

Ideally speaking still, we can use some of the ideas of the United Nations’ Committee of Experts on Public Administration to suggest questions we might pose to local government everywhere – in every country – about their work in delivering the sustainable development goals (United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration 2022). The suggested questions are:

  • Have they aligned their visions for the development of their communities, their associated strategic plans, and their budgets and service policies with long-term sustainable development goals? 
  • Are individual local governments able to act in a way consistent with a whole-of-government approach to the delivery of their visions and strategies?
  • Are they able to track and account for their expenditures against the 17 sustainable development goals?
  • Are they able to evaluate and report to the public and other stakeholders on their performance in delivering the sustainable development goals in their locality?
  • Are they carrying out data analysis to identify the occurrence and extent of poverty and inequality as a prelude to local policy making?
  • Are they acting in their local areas to reduce poverty and inequality and to create more human development and empowerment?
  • Are they acting in partnership with citizens and other stakeholders through strategies such as community-driven development and participatory budgeting?
  • Are they able to engage the public in initiating and designing local public services?
  • Are they acting in accordance with the principles of open local governance?
  • Are they able to interact with central government and a get a cooperative response to problem solving from it?
  • Have they got the necessary skills and sufficient scale of financial resources they need to play a decisive role in sustainable and resilient development of their communities?

Finally, we arrive at the moment of pragmatism in this blog.  After the last forty years, which include the austerity years since 2010, we must recognise that English local government is placed in very challenging circumstances. We would say that they do not have the right legal framework, they do not have sufficient organisational capacity, and that they need more public support and resources to do what would be implied in the 11 questions above. They are currently exceptionally constrained in what they can do.

But the English local authorities have gained great skill in forming and developing partnerships and so they could develop stronger partnerships for sustainability. They could, for example, begin by consulting the public on community priorities. These priorities could be an input into local conferences to discuss voluntary coordination and efforts involving all the sectors (public, private, and voluntary). Finally, individual local authorities could prepare for better targeting of their highly constrained resources by auditing their expenditures against the 17 sustainable development goals.

In effect, pragmatic and idealist arguments suggested here call for the community leadership role of local government to be focused on delivering sustainable development mainly through encouraging and coordinating others at the local level.

Paul Corrigan has been a social science academic, a local government officer and a special adviser on health policy to New Labour Secretaries of State for Health and the Prime Minister Tony Blair. He now chairs Care City an innovation community interest company in the East End of London.

Paul Joyce is an Inlogov associate.  Paul has a PhD from London School of Economics and Political Science. His latest book is Strategic Management and Governance: Strategy Execution Around the World (Routledge, 6 June 2022). He is a Visiting Professor in Public Management at Leeds Beckett University.