The new secretary of State for Communities and Local Government John Denham keeps re-appearing in this weeks news cycle. Yesterday was a speech to the Fabian Society that questioned Labour’s approach to equality; today a speech to the LGA on the future of local government and plans for rolling out ‘total place’. I will blog on the former next week; but first the latter.
The Secretary of State’s speech to the LGA promised to boost the “status, powers and accountability” of local councils – implying a real shift of power away from the centre, and the extension of greater discretion over public spending to local leaders.
His agenda is built on Sir Michael Bichard’s plans for total place – which looks to squeeze out efficiency savings and better value from public spending through a two-part process. Through rolling out this programme, Mr Denham suggested that “central government (is) prepared to cede some of its powers and local councils becoming more accountable for theirs.”
Total Place is an interesting approach, and we should welcome a transfer of power from the political centre. But in an era of cuts, councillors should ask what they would actually be gaining. David Cameron might point the way here. He set out today an effective trade-off for local leaders, telling them “the good news is that I want to give you a lot more power. The bad news is I’m not going to give you a lot more money.” Greater autonomy for sure, but local leaders will need to think creatively to ensure that the power to cut services is not all they are entrusted with.