Impact of the general election on the local government sector

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With Local Government already seeing its funding slashed by £11.3 billion by 2015/16 and more than 500,000 council jobs going since 2010 it is understandable why many are concerned about the future of our local government system with the election of a Conservative Government.  David Walker of the Guardian comments, “Under the Tories local and central government bodies will shrink further into their limited roles – and single bodies will be easier to pick off”.  Walker Morris look at the potential impact of the general election result on the local government sector.

Cuts to local authorities have become increasingly visible over the last five years as budgets for libraries and museums, highway maintenance, social care, planning and refuse collection have been increasingly cut.  Under the Conservative’s manifesto, they propose to cut a further £30 billion from public spending over the next two years, which will inevitably have an impact on the budget of local government with Councils being asked to make further savings from already stretched budgets.

The Conservatives have pledged to keep council tax down, continuing the trend under the coalition  where council tax bills in England fell by an average of 11%.  Local referendums will allow residents to veto proposed council tax rises of more than 2%.

Consequently, whilst council tax remains low, this inevitably has an impact on local government spending and with more cuts forecast in the foreseeable future, the Conservatives have given a very clear message that austerity is here to stay.

Greg Clark has been announced as the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government succeeding Eric Pickles.  With previous posts in DECC and as Minister in CLG Greg Clark is noted for respecting that local authorities and not Whitehall are best placed for making decisions on investment and the approval of planning applications within a clear policy framework – something that had become somewhat eroded in Mr Pickles’ incumbency.

In addition, the Conservatives have pledged to strengthen the incentives that Local Authorities have to support enterprise and growth.  We may therefore see more devolution deals  like the one concluded in Manchester under which Authorities may benefit from bespoke growth deals and with Whitehall ring fencing being reduced, they will have more flexibility to support the local economy.

Richard Auton comments, ” Whilst there will once more be challenging times for Councils financially, there are also potentially some exciting opportunities, if devolution happens on a large scale, for local authorities to act as Local Government to secure local growth.”