Wednesday 6 July 2016

Brexit: and local democracy ... of devolution and cuts in local government

Immediately before and after the referendum, there were pressing questions about the role of local government:
Futures Forum: Brexit/Bremain: and devolution
Futures Forum: Brexit: and devolution in the South West

Earlier today, the communities and local government secretary promised local authorities a greater say following the referendum:

Clark committed to devolution with ‘much bigger role for local’ post-Brexit


The role of local government and devolution deals is more important than ever following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, communities and local government secretary Greg Clark told the LGA conference today.

In his speech, Clark praised local government’s ability to solve problems and deal with the unexpected in the political chaos following the referendum result.

“While some Westminster politicians can give a good impression of losing their heads and blaming it on everyone else, that doesn’t wash in local government,” he said. “Among the challenges the referendum poses has to be, it seems to me, a much bigger role for the local in our national life.”

He committed to continuing the government’s programme of devolution, saying that the question was no longer whether devolution occurred, but how far powers were devolved.

“When we’re transferring powers from the EU, I think it’s essential that Whitehall is not the principal recipient,” he added.

Clark said that he is assembling a team of local government leaders to represent the needs of local government in the referendum negotiations.

When asked by a representative of the newly proposed West of England devolved body, joining up Bath, Bristol and South Gloucestershire councils, if the devolution deals would mean forcible restructuring of local government, he said: “I have no intention whatever of obliging the reorganisation of local government.”

However, he indicated that there was a lack of support for devolution in wider government, saying: “Does everyone in government and Whitehall share my enthusiasm to devolve? To be candid, no.”

He urged councils to make the case for devolution to national government by being “ever more clear on what you can offer and what you can propose.”

Clark also announced that he is opening a “deliberately broad and open” consultation into proposals to devolve full control of business rates to councils.

Clark committed to devolution with ‘much bigger role for local’ post-Brexit
Local government has a seat at the Brexit table, says Clark | Public Finance

The Conservative Home website is urging pretty much the same:

Councils must push for a better deal with Brexit

By Harry Phibbs July 6, 2016

Often the greatest victims of bureaucracy are those within the system who are absorbed with it every day of their working lives. In other words, the bureaucrats themselves. The huge regulatory burden on local government coming from the European Union will not automatically be removed by Brexit. If anything, the forces of inertia will tend to prevail. After the Second World War we had food rationing and ID cards for years.

So the opportunity is there, but the red tape will not be scrapped automatically. All too frequently the default option may be to continue with all the rules imposed at the behest of Brussels. There is a responsibility here for the “sector” to produce a detailed list of the regulations that should be scrapped or amended.

Of course individual local councils could and should undertake a trawl of all the times their Legal Departments have advised that a common sense approach in a Council’s policy is at odds with EU law. But so should all these networks which are so heavily funded from council subs – London Councils, the Local Government Association, the County Councils Network, the District Councils Network, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities – the list goes on and on.

Vast time and money has gone on lobbying the EU. Council officials and their representatives have turned up as supplicants seeking to ameliorate the worst excesses of some directive or another. Now local government should stand tall. The presumption should be that councils should be able to make their own decisions and manage their own affairs.

Lord Porter, Chairman of the LGA, has already written for this site about the potential for localism being given a boost. The LGA wants the “£5.3 billion in EU regeneration funding they have been allocated up to 2020″to be maintained. What about a demand that councils should be given freedom over what to spend it on?
Councils must push for a better deal with Brexit | Conservative Home

It is indeed about cash, as the BusinessGreen site remarks:
Councils demand say in how Brexit impacts local green policies

The East Devon Watch blog has noted how other authorities in Devon are beset by rows about local spending cuts:
Torbay council Scrutiny Committee being blocked from seeing report on cuts | East Devon Watch
Councillors' anger as they are 'blocked' from seeing Torbay cutbacks report | Torquay Herald Express

The EDW blog also highlights a piece today from the Local Government Lawyer site - which alerts us to the dangers of cutting costs when it comes to 'consultation':


6 JULY 2016

“Clearly in austerity times the moment of reckoning approaches where traditional well tried strategies and tactics of keeping posts vacant, business process/organisation design, efficiencies, productivity improvement, mergers and outsourcing will not alone balance the budget and services will need to be rationed or cut entirely.

Furthermore take it as read if you are cutting a service that will have a detrimental effect on a current service user, it cannot be done without consulting those affected.

At the same time understandably your clients [written for lawyers dealing with local authorities] may be tempted to carry out a low-profile consultation for a number of reasons, not least the cost and fear of agitation of organised and political objections.

Well that’s local government.

The legal requirements of consultation … watch out, EDDC! | East Devon Watch
Local Government Lawyer - Consultation in austerity 2016: a practical guide

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