The chancellor missed a localism trick

Cllr Sue Baxter, chair of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), demands that the government responds to the changing landscape in public service delivery by offering local authorities much greater freedoms.

There are encouraging signs from the chancellor on his vision for the future of the economy, devolution and handing more power to local people, but he missed a trick by not going further to boost the government’s devolution and localist credentials. 

Spending plans announced on devolution in metro mayor areas, housing, NHS and homelessness are to be welcomed, but gaps will remain in the delivery of public services, which communities will need to look to themselves to fill.

The chancellor did not go far enough to give local communities the real power and support they need given the financial challenges they will continue to face, especially after Brexit.

Ultra-localism is, in fact, the only way to rebuild community and local services in an age of division and austerity; and for our towns, villages and neighbourhoods to truly succeed in a future full of change, challenges and opportunities as set out by the chancellor.

Specific measures NALC welcomes includes investment in 5G mobile, fibre broadband, electric car charging infrastructure, transport, winter funding for NHS England, establishment of the homelessness taskforce and support for pubs.

On the housing and planning measures announced, such as the planning permissions review, NALC looks forward to engaging with the government. Through neighbourhood planning, communities are already building from the grassroots to ensure development is appropriate and fit for the future, including the homes and affordable housing people desperately need. However, to accelerate housing growth, the government should bring forward further measures to incentivise local communities to accept much-needed development and to invest in local infrastructure.

The Budget does nothing to alleviate the growing pressure on parish funding, where local councils are continuing to take on more and more services including from principal (county, district, borough and unitary) councils.

Measures announced on business rates should again go further and provide a share for local councils to support their work in the local economy. Given the chancellor’s claims about Britain being at the forefront of a technological revolution, there is a gaping chasm in the lack of new investment to help small organisations such as local (parish and town) councils prepare for new data burdens.

The chancellor should realise that local councils can provide democratic leadership that is accountable, open and transparent, and builds community cohesion and resilience. Further, they are at the heart of planning for the future of neighbourhoods by protecting and enhancing local assets and services, place-shaping to meet sustainable local economic development needs.

We demand that the government responds to the changing landscape in public service delivery by offering councils fairer funding and freedoms to raise the resources they need to invest in local services and facilities without unnecessary government intervention. The Autumn Budget provided an opportunity to consider the possibility of a more radical approach to the operation of the UK’s public finances, with communities and local people at the heart of it – but sadly, this was a missed opportunity.

Image © NurPhoto/PA Images



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