The Local Democracy think tank the Local Government Information Unit has welcomed the commitment from the Deputy Prime Minister to creating a “shared vision” for central and local government working together on improving public services over the next ten years – but it says the key to the future of local democracy is still the reform of finance and that has been unnecessarily delayed.The LGIU has praised the launch of new pilot Local Area Agreements as a first sign of the new shared approach. It says the scheme of nine pilots announced could evolve into a major step forward in public service reform and one that recognises the unique role of local government in that reform.
But it believes the scheme shows how weak de-centralisers are within government. Although the ODPM has joined up some funding, it has not, the LGIU says, been able to move the big spending ministers. The three LAA funding themes – children and young people, safer and stronger communities, health and older people – reflect existing Whitehall departments showing that many key local public services such as the police remain outside the scope of properly joined-up local agreements.
Dennis Reed, the LGIU’s Chief Executive, said the government was recognising in word the unique role of local government in joining together and improving public services in a way that it had often not done in deed. In spite of all the words in support of local government, for example, recent centralising measures on education funding happened overnight and by-passed the formal machinery for consulting with councils.
In contrast, he said, the reform of local government finance – the key to the future of local democracy – was artificially delayed in favour of a totally unnecessary further inquiry.