In (Climate) Emergency Break The Mould 

Paul Joyce, Philip Whiteman and Jason Lowther

Cities must be at the heart of a successful response to the climate crisis. Hundreds of local authorities in the UK are acting responsibly by taking the climate crisis seriously, whether it is by setting net zero targets or proclaiming a climate emergency. But they will be hampered in their endeavours for a number of reasons, including the significant capacity constraints that contradict their aspirations, even though national government in the UK has also set a net zero target.  

Support for local government action could increase if government ministers listen to the recommendations of a report by the Rt Hon Chris Skidmore  Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) Chairman, who issued a report on  how the UK could better meet its net zero commitments.  It’s an impressive piece of work, reflecting over 1800 written submissions as part of the official Call for Evidence.  Central to its recommendations is the need for central government to empower regions, local government and communities to play a greater role.    

We should acknowledge that on some measures the UK is already performing relatively well on environmental issues, particularly in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The UK was placed joint second in Yale’s global Environmental Performance Index 2022, with Finland and behind Denmark.  It achieved the fastest improvement of the three countries (and third best globally) in the last decade. Between 1990 and 2020, the UK reduced emissions by almost 50%, driven in part by a reduction in the use of coal and toward natural gas and renewables.  Some of this success stems from historic decisions such as the 2008 Climate Change Act, which committed the UK to reaching 80% emissions reductions by 2050, and actions such as the introduction of a carbon price floor in 2013 and investments in solar and wind energy.   

It may become more difficult for the UK to keep performing well as new, more challenging actions are needed.  The EAC report is clear that local government is critical to developing and implementing the necessary actions, and that this requires a fundamental change in its relationship with central government.  We highlight four essential changes. 

First, simplify net zero funding arrangements.  The report is clear that “current central government funding arrangements are standing in the way of effective local action”.  The funding landscape is disjointed, unfair, and expensive for local authorities because of its complexity and reliance on short-deadline competitive bidding.  

Secondly, trust local government.  The report recognises that “to achieve a place-based, place-sensitive, locally-led transition to net zero, Government must place its trust in local leaders and communities to deliver”.   Analysis by UKRI found that a “place-specific” approach to decarbonisation costs 70% less and delivers 90% more benefits than one which is “place-agnostic”.  The report recommends a high-level framework and an agreement to close future partnership working between central and local government. 

Thirdly, allow local communities to determine their priorities and approach within the national framework.  The report recommends a new statutory duty on local authorities to take account of UK net zero targets.  Disappointingly, government is asked to back only “at least one” Trailblazer Net Zero city, local authority and community, with the aim for these places to reach net zero by 2030.   

Finally, align the planning system with net zero ambitions.  The current framework sometimes stands in the way of councils insisting on high standards.  And cumulative cuts to planning department budgets mean many councils lack the staff to deliver effective planning inputs quickly.  As the report says: “Reforming the relationship between central and local government on net zero will empower local authorities to deliver place-based, place sensitive action and unlock the high levels of local net zero ambition that we have across the UK. Unblocking the planning system and aligning it more closely with net zero will enable widespread pro-growth, net zero development” (p.189).  

In our discussions with local councils, we often find strong aspirations to address the environmental agenda.   To turn green aspirations into reality, we need city and town governments that are properly empowered and resourced to achieve this.  One of our concerns is that while the local authorities in the towns and cities are positive about cooperating with central government to promote sustainable development, their capacity is limited by comparison with European counterparts such as Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark.  In consequence, the centralised approach to public governance in the UK has produced little “depth” to sustainable development by public authorities.   Furthermore, we note that whilst may local authorities aspire to improve the environmental agenda, there is often a lack of specific or explicit connectivity to international targets, comparing less favourably to local authorities in other countries.

It is time to empower local government to become a powerful means of transformation of UK society, to give them much more fiscal autonomy, and to give them a strong mandate for sustainable development of cities and towns.  This needs to be effective not just for the biggest cities, but also for smaller cities and towns where the capacity is sometimes more limited.  Chris Skidmore’s report has recognised many of these issues, we now need to break the mould and give local government the mandate, capacity and collaborative approach it needs to succeed. 

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.

Philip Whiteman and Jason Lowther are Inlogov staff members.

Local government should welcome Gordon Brown’s private bills proposal

Phil Swann

Streamlined access to local legislation must be available to help struggling councils to improve rather than rewarding those that have already done so, writes a PhD candidate in central-local government relations at INLOGOV and former director of Shared Intelligence.

In 1926 Winston Churchill, then chancellor of the exchequer, successfully opposed a private bill promoted by Bristol Corporation to establish a municipal bank in order to stop “all kinds of incompetent town councils”, particularly “socialistic” ones, from running banks. He did so despite the fact that the bill was supported by his Conservative colleague and former mayor of Birmingham Neville Chamberlain, who argued that Birmingham’s municipal bank had encouraged thrift and home ownership.

It is interesting to reflect on this dispute (not the last between these two political Titans!) in the context of the move by Gordon Brown’s Commission on the Future of the UK to promote the use of private bills by local councils. Raising the prospect of “the great cities of England” exerting similar powers to the Scottish and Welsh governments, the commission recommends a new, streamlined process enabling councils to initiate local legislation in parliament. This, the commission argues, would give councils an ability to secure the powers they need and to have a direct relationship with Parliament.

Evading centralising tendencies

It is undoubtedly the case, as the commission argues, that private legislation provided a vehicle for innovation in Victorian local government in the face of the social, economic and physical impacts of the industrial revolution. 

The genesis of public health lies in local legislation as does the creation of public utilities to provide gas, electricity and public transport. It was the ability of local corporations to promote private legislation that fuelled Joseph Chamberlain’s ambition to turn Birmingham Corporation into “a real local parliament”. Private acts were also used by enterprising councils to evade the centralising tendencies of successive governments in the second half of the 19th century.

It is also the case, however, that by the inter-war period private legislation had become a feature of the tensions in central-local government relations rather than necessarily being a solution to them. The resources and ambition required to draft and promote private legislation reinforced a growing divide between “advanced” or “progressive” councils on the one hand and “backward” or “penny-pinching” councils on the other hand. This reinforced differences between the major cities and smaller towns and rural areas. The widespread use of private legislation also contributed to the ad hoc and complex structures and powers of Victorian local government.

Significantly these trends were reflected in the justification for increasing central government intervention in local politics. In the 19th century there was a shift in ministerial focus from corruption to efficiency and action to bring “backward” councils up to the standard of the “progressive”. The first half of the 20th century saw a financially driven move to rein in the most innovative councils and drive improvement in the poorly performing ones. The dispute between Churchill and Chamberlain over the Bristol bank bill is an example of this.

Clause acts and adoptive acts

Despite these warning notes from history, the ambition of the Brown commission to enable local leaders to have access to a streamlined process to initiate local legislation should be welcomed. Many of the problems that emerged when private legislation was a common feature of local government could be overcome if it was explicitly seen as a way of testing new legislative powers prior to wider adoption – genuine pioneering.

Two other legislative devices deployed in the Victorian period could help to secure this approach if they were refreshed alongside a revival of local legislation. The first device is a clauses act, the prime example being the Town Improvement Clauses Act 1847. It brought together the provisions most commonly inserted in and effectively deployed through local legislation. Clauses acts, each of which would relate to a particular service area or initiative, would both streamline the legislative process and avoid unhelpful adhockery.

The second device, which takes this a step further, is the adoptive act. This is a piece of legislation which has been through the parliamentary process but which comes into effect only when it is adopted by individual local authorities. Acts of this type could make powers that have been successfully adopted by one authority available to be adopted by others without requiring local drafting or taking up parliamentary time.

Earned autonomy?

One other issue which requires attention is whether there should be a link between an ability to initiate local legislation and a council’s perceived performance. A sustained thread running through central-local government relations since the 1830s is the view that that councils should not benefit from new powers or responsibilities until they have met certain conditions or achieved a certain standard.

Joseph Chamberlain, who made extensive use of private legislation in Birmingham, took a different view. In 1877 he argued that “whatever the defects” of a council “I defy you to make a better one for the place except by gradually increasing its functions and responsibilities and so raising its tone.” No earned autonomy for Chamberlain!

If the increased use of local legislation is to help achieve the ambition set out by Brown and his commissioners, it is essential that streamlined access to local legislation is available to help struggling councils to improve rather than as a reward for having done so.

This article first appeared in the Local Government Chronicle on 13th December 2022.

Phil Swann is researching a PhD on central-local government relations at INLOGOV

Integrated Care Boards – a new frontline in localism?

Jason Lowther

As the government once again kicks down the road decisions on vital reforms and funding for social care, local areas are establishing the Integrated Care Boards which will lead the new Integrated Care Systems (ICS), bringing together the NHS, local government and partners to plan and deliver integrated services to improve the health of the local population.  Building on the progress made since many public health responsibilities transferred back to local government in 2013, this is a great opportunity to address the determinants of health and issues around health inequality.  Might ICSs at last lead to an effective local voice in our over-centralised, top-down healthcare system?

Each ICS is supposed to plan at three levels: the neighbourhood (an area of around 40,000 people), the ‘place’ (often a LA area), and the (ICS) system (covering around 2 million people).  Working at the neighbourhood level is likely to be somewhat informal, often using a social prescribing approach and developing multi-disciplinary teams including third sector partners.  The approach to ‘place’ looks set to vary between areas, with some ICSs devolving significant responsibility (and funding) whilst others centralise these at ‘system’ level.  Meanwhile at ‘ICS system’ level, Integrated Care Partnerships (joint LA and health committees) will develop an Integrated Care Strategy to meet the assessed health and social care needs of their population identified in the Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and Wellbeing Strategies prepared by local Health and Wellbeing Boards.

Beyond the formal planning process, the success of local ICSs will partly depend on the quality of local collaborative (managerial and political) leadership – across statutory partners and with the third sector.  It will be a tough job to balance the priorities of the national health service and issues of local places, but many local authorities will be able to offer helpful experience , for example from moves to more networked governance approaches.

The National Audit Office recognises the potential but appears dubious on current prospects.  Last month it published a review, Introducing Integrated Care Systems: joining up local services to improve health outcomes, finding:

NHSE has a detailed regime to monitor performance against core NHS objectives but … it is less clear who will monitor the overall performance of local systems, and particularly how well partners are working together and what difference this new model makes…

The report notes that, whilst government is asking ICSs to set out local priorities and make progress against them, there is no protected funding and few mechanisms to ensure this happens.  This leads, as the NAO politely puts it, to “a risk that national priorities, and the rigorous oversight mechanisms in place to ensure they are delivered, crowd out attempts at progress on local issues”.  The report also identifies five “high risk” elements of effective integration: clarity of objectives, resourcing, governance and accountability (such as how ICSs will function alongside existing local government Health and Wellbeing Boards and how accountability differences between NHS and local authority bodies will be resolved), and the capacity to balance priorities other than national NHS targets. These urgently need to be addressed if ICSs are to begin to meet their potential.

At one of Inlogov’s “Brown Bag Lunch” discussions earlier this month we agreed on the importance of issues around how ICSs develop, particularly in terms of developing effective system leadership and planning, collaborating with community organisations, and links to wider devolution processes. I’d be interested to hear about experiences in local areas as these develop. 

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

Picture credit: National Audit Office

Why and how do municipalities merge? A view from the cognitive perspective

[Photo: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/mental-virus-flipside-covid-pandemic-dr-abha-bhartia/%5D

Dr. Veronika Vakulenko

Among all public sector reforms initiatives, those appearing on the municipal level are the most tangible. This is because in modern democracies citizens can observe and (if willing to) trace changes in, for example, city planning, local infrastructure, education and many other spheres. Let’s be honest, everyone likes to visit a clean park, modern library, drive perfect roads or celebrate an opening of a new school. Meaning that local governments need to use financial recourses on creating a comfortable place for all to live in. However, it becomes rather common that local governments are not able to balance their budgets, due to a higher per capita spending, lower public service provision, or limited infrastructural capacity, which is the case particularly for smaller rural areas.

Seeking to improve local financial condition, many countries worldwide launched local government reforms, which still remain on the top of agenda among academia and practitioners. Pursuing mainly the objective to enhance local financial efficiency and quality of local public services, the reforms can vary from contractual inter-municipal cooperation to mergers or amalgamations. Mergers are the most drastic reforms as they require alterations of territorial boundaries, changes in administrative responsibilities and routines, and adjustment of financial management practices, all of which affects significantly the lives of citizens.

Several European countries, e.g., Finland, Switzerland, Ukraine, selected to implement voluntary mergers, allowing local governments to celebrate the freedom in deciding whether to initiate the territorial reform. While some municipalities recognized merger’s benefits (i.e., improvement local governments’ economic condition and quality of local public service delivery), others resisted merger. In this situation, it becomes interesting to approach municipal amalgamations from a dynamic perspective to understand behaviour and interactions between different actors, which can result in diverging reform outcomes.

In our recent study published in open access at Local Government Studies, we use an interdisciplinary concept of cognitive style, to explore the psychological aspect of mergers. By mobilizing cognitive literature, we could take a closer look at local actors’ behaviour, to argue that a merger is not a simple ‘marriage of convenience’ of local actors to increase their economic efficiency. Rather, it is a complex cognitive process, which requires local actors’ mental work in taking decisions and creating (or not) a new merged municipality. Thus, a final decision “to merge or not to merge” depends not only on financial benefits, but also on the way local actors perceive and process information about financial incentives and how they operationalize their decisions.

In a story of two neighbouring local governments in Ukraine studied during 2015-2019, we approached two local political leaders, who were drivers of changes on the local level. By studying very carefully their behaviour and actions, we found that their initial perceptions of merging were completely the opposite. While the first one was viewing this as an opportunity and was able to convincingly explain the need and future benefits of this change, as well as introducing new practices to engage local citizens. Despite several other local actors were supporting this initiative, the second leader was acting in a discouraging way and always emphasized risks for their community, which in the end resulted in collective inaction.  To summarize, new interdisciplinary approaches can be used to better understand the success stories or failures of municipal mergers. Cognitive theory in public administration has a significant potential in this field as well as implications for practice. As our case showed, better mapping the sceptics and addressing perceptions of local leaders before initiating voluntary mergers could facilitate better results from territorial reforms.

Dr. Veronika Vakulenko is an Associate Professor at Nord University Business School, Norway. Their research interests include interdisciplinary public sector accounting research; budgeting and financial management in local governments; national and supra-national public sector audit; reforms particularly in the context of developing countries.

80% of councils directly involved (again) in delivering housing

Chris Game

If you’re an academic – either a genuine intellectual, theorising one, or a more lecturing, popularising one like what I was – there’s a good chance that the week before Easter is Conference Week.

It’s easy to mock, and knock, academic conferences. Too many delegates reading, rather than ‘presenting’, their papers; no time for proper interrogation, discussion and debate; mediocre university campus food. And for overseas conferences, add in climate threatening CO₂ emissions.

However, I like them – conferences, that is.  Indeed, this recent Easter week I racked up a full half-century of attending, at least intermittently, PSA (Political Studies Association) conferences.

Like most such events nowadays, this one was ‘hybrid’ – with panels attended partly in person, partly digitally via Zoom. Which makes genuine discussion additionally problematic, and emphasises the importance of the written papers addressing subjects that ideally are appealing, topical and even newsworthy.

Happily, in the Local Politics Specialist Group this is almost the norm. And this year one paper especially – in addition, obviously, to that of the INLOGOV’s Director, Jason Lowther (from ‘Birminham’, according to p.25 of the evidently un-proof-checked programme!) – struck me as both sufficiently important and timely to bring it to the attention of a couple of slightly wider audiences⃰.

Timely because we’re fast approaching the May 5th local council elections, and, if these councils’ controlling parties choose to draw voters’ attention to it, many could boast something they might well not have been able to even four years ago when these same seats were last collectively contested.

Specifically, over four in every five should be able to claim that they are genuinely and actively involved in the business of delivering social housing.  And if that doesn’t grab you, or you’re thinking: “well, isn’t that one of the main things councils are supposed to do?” – or maybe, as a Birmingham resident, you’ve heard of the 4,000+ homes built by the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust, the City Council’s housebuilding arm, and assume that it’s fairly typical, rather than really exceptional – then I politely suggest you’ve rather lost the plot in recent years.

When I used to lecture to particularly overseas students about housing in England or the UK, I would use a couple of very basic graphs, similar to those illustrated here. The first showed the changing relative importance of our main housing tenures since 1919 – private rented, owner occupied, local authority, and housing association.

Tenure1

At the end of the First World War, the ‘big picture’ was straightforward: roughly 90% of housing stock was privately rented, 10% owner occupied. Councils were empowered to build ‘corporation housing’, but few did.  But the War changed everything. PM Lloyd George promised not just houses, but “Homes Fit for Heroes’, and the 1919 Addison (Housing, Town Planning, &c.) Act facilitated it. Council housing committees sprung up, generous subsidies were provided, and council estates mushroomed.

By 1939 over 10% of the population lived in council homes, and the numbers increased steadily post-war, with the Labour Government’s Town and Country Planning and New Towns Acts. At their 1950s peak, under Conservative Governments, councils were building nearly 200,000 houses a year – one completion every three minutes, if you were wondering.

By the 1970s over a third of England’s housing stock was ‘council’. Private renting had plummeted to below 20%, with owner occupation over 50% and rising, and housing associations just beginning to take off.

The 1980s Thatcher Governments’ priorities, though, were very different: a “property-owning democracy”, with successive ‘Right to Buy’ policies – requiring, rather than allowing, councils to sell off their housing stock, if tenants, particularly of larger, better-quality properties, wished to purchase.

Coupled with Treasury restrictions on councils borrowing money for capital expenditure, there began the long-term shift from council housing to housing associations or ALMOs (Arm’s-Length Management Organisations): from 7% of all social housing in 1980 to over 60% today, including virtually all new social housing.

On my second graph, of ‘Housebuilding Completions’ – albeit scaled for dramatic effect – the local authority line by the mid-1990s was barely distinguishable from the horizontal x-axis. Council house building on any significant scale virtually stopped, new homes countable in the hundreds, rather than hundreds of thousands – until, if you peer extremely closely, you can just see the space between line and axis opening up in 2018.

Housebuilding

Sales meanwhile averaged well over 100,000 a year, re-boosted by increased discounts from the Coalition Government following the 2007/8 financial crisis. That same Coalition – or its Treasury – also imposed tightly restrictive ‘caps’ on councils’ ability to borrow against their own Housing Revenue Accounts in order to build affordable homes.

True, the 2011 Localism Act and other changes gradually empowered councils to work both like and with private sector companies. But it was really only when, several years later, Theresa May announced to her October 2018 Party Conference that she would ‘ditch the cap’ that councils’ widespread re-engagement with housing provision seriously took off.

There were and still are significant hurdles: tenants’ right to buy, planning constraints, the need for more grant funding. But the climate has indisputably changed, and at least some of the circulating local election manifestos will surely contain the evidence.

The reason I’m confident of this is that one of the York conference sessions I attended was presented by Bartlett School of Planning’s Professor Janice Morphet, who, with her colleague Dr Ben Clifford, recently completed the third of their series of biennial surveys of councils’ engagement in the provision of affordable housing.

I was aware of this work, but frankly had no real idea of its scope, depth, rigour or even of the sheer quantity of data the surveys produced and made available, in both the respective main reports and the separate desk survey reports. Seriously impressive – and obviously impossible to do any kind of justice to here.

Hence the focus on what has been one of the surveys’ particularly key and consistent findings, summarised here in a couple of quotes: first from Morphet herself, then from the recent third survey’s Executive Summary:

“The third wave of research shows how local authorities are directly engaging in housing provision [and] that this has moved from a marginal to a mainstream issue.”

“From the desk survey, we found that in comparison with 2017 and 2019, the number of councils with [housing and/or property] companies … has increased from 58% in 2017, 78% in 2019 to 83% in 2021 … From the direct survey, we have found that 80% of local authorities now self-report that they are directly engaged in the provision of housing, a notable increase from the 69% … in our 2019 survey … and the 65% from the 2017 survey.”

Who said academic conferences are an indulgent waste of time?

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⃰ A slightly abbreviated version of this blog – “Candidates will be homing in on a growing council priority” – appeared in the Birmingham Post on April 28th –  https://www.pressreader.com/uk/birmingham-post/20220428/281951726382871

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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.

The Good Law Project – proud to be judged by its enemies

Chris Game

“I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made”. No, not Ukraine’s remarkable President Zelenskyy, fitting though it would seem. It’s generally attributed to the rather longer-serving US President Franklin D Roosevelt, an at least equally appropriate author for this column’s political theme.

But who in the last fortnight’s UK politics might have prompted FDR’s “judge me by my enemies” thought?  Well, it wasn’t exactly a ‘who’.  Rather, a smallish, youngish, not-for-profit campaigning organisation doing its best to challenge abuses of power, inequality and injustice, mostly by Government departments and Ministers, in cases bigger, better-funded organisations hesitate to take on.

And they do have an appealing name – the Good Law Project (GLP).  Which is fortunate, since appealing is how they’re largely funded – through donations and periodic crowd-funded contributions to cover specific cases, as in this instance.

In a few short years, dominated by our EU exit and Covid, they’ve also racked up a pretty appealing court record, unless of course you view it as, say, a recent or current Government minister.

You’ll recall that Boris Johnson, within weeks of becoming PM in July 2019, ‘advised’ the Queen to prorogue/shut down Parliament for an unprecedented five weeks, thereby avoiding further parliamentary scrutiny of the already thrice-defeated Brexit withdrawal agreement, and enabling the UK potentially to leave the EU on October 31st without a deal.

The Queen had little constitutional option but to accede. Others, though, did. The GLP crowd-funded an appeal, sufficient to allow lawyers to petition first the Scottish Appeal Court, then the UK Supreme Court. You can maybe even re-picture the historic, televised, unanimous 11-judge ruling, delivered by the UoB Vice-Chancellor’s most recent Distinguished Lecturer, the Supreme Court’s spider-brooched President, Lady Hale.

Picture1

Johnson’s prorogation advice to the Queen “was outside the powers of the PM”, Parliament’s suspension unlawful and unconstitutional, and it should be immediately reconvened. Score: UK Government 0, GLP several.

Then came Covid, bringing with it what was quickly tagged ‘institutionalised cronyism’, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove the biggest serial offenders.

The GLP could have chosen numerous cases, but selected three PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) contracts as illustrations: £252m to a finance company for face masks, £108m to a confectionery products agency, and £345m to a company trading as Pestfix – which, as we’ll see, is what the grudge-bearing Hancock would still dearly love to do to the GLP.

The otherwise defenceless Health Secretary – the man who broke his own social distancing guidelines in his own office – resorted to disputing GLP’s legal standing. The high court judge ruled, however, that he had acted unlawfully in respect of “vast quantities” of taxpayers’ money in failing to publish multibillion pound contracts within the legally required 30 days.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove also had cronies. Ministers in those early Covid days needed to influence public opinion, and get focus group feedback on the effectiveness of their messaging.  Unfortunately, neither Gove nor anyone in the entire civil service could think of an experienced polling company.

Luckily, though, the PM’s Chief Adviser, Dominic Cummings, knew a ‘communications agency’, Public First, run by chance by some friends. Time, regrettably, was far too short for advertising or competitive tendering, so Public First got the eventual £840,000 ‘no-tender’ contract. Job done.

What was fast becoming almost standard ministerial practice was a gift for the GLP, and they set about proving Gove too had broken the law.

In June 2021 the High Court finally agreed. It rejected Gove’s bluster that no one else could possibly do the job, ruling that any “reasonable observer” – the legal test – would reckon it was Public First’s relationships with Cummings and Gove that secured the contract. The minister had indeed broken the law … and the GLP had acquired another ministerial enemy.  And no, Gove didn’t resign either.

Time for a statement of the obvious. The GLP don’t always win, as we’ll see. They deliberately select tough cases that big, established law firms decline. They raise funding case-by-case. Considering which, their record is impressive: in 2021, “four judgements, four wins”.

Then came Tuesday Feb.15th.  Notwithstanding Ukraine and the Duke of York, most media found room for reports variously headlined: “Ex-Health Secretary Matt Hancock broke/ignored/did not comply with equality laws/rules/duty over Covid appointments”.

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In a case brought jointly by the UK’s leading independent equality thinktank, the Runnymede Trust, and the GLP, two High Court judges ruled that “the UK government failed to comply with equality law” when appointing Baroness Dido Harding as Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection and Mr Mike Coupe as Director of Testing at Test and Trace.

Specifically, the “then Health Secretary Matt Hancock did not uphold a public sector duty to promote equality when hiring officials.”

It sounds clear and crushing enough, and it was.  However, that part of the judges’ verdict was in effect directed only at the Runnymede Trust, who had what is known as the standing and entitlement to bring the case. The judges deemed the GLF not to have such ‘standing’ – now or, by implication, were likely to have any time soon.

Still, does that verdict sound to you like an ex-Minister’s judicial triumph?  It apparently did to him!  Read to the end of the Guardian report, and you’ll see he went on instant attack, in a way that readers must have found, if not confusing, then surely bemusing, or simply desperate.

“We’re delighted the department has won yet another court case against the discredited Good Law Project. Claims of ‘apparent bias’ and ‘indirect discrimination’ have been quashed and thrown out by the high court.”  Which, of course, they weren’t.

“What the judgment does make clear is that ‘the claim brought by Good Law Project fails in its entirety’, therefore highlighting the fact this group continues to waste the court’s time.”

Back, then, to President Roosevelt. Last week was undoubtedly a setback for the GLP.  But the instant glee and hauteur with which the court’s ruling was received by Hancock and some of its other critics suggest that, given its record and support, it is unlikely to prove the “existential blow” they apparently crave.

And on the FDR scale – “Judge us by the enemies we’ve made” – they’re still doing pretty well.

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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.

This blog was originally published in the Birmingham Post, March 3-9, entitled ‘Campaign group proud to be judged by its enemies’