Magazine article Public Finance

Show Leadership in Tackling Problems, Councils Urged

Magazine article Public Finance

Show Leadership in Tackling Problems, Councils Urged

Article excerpt

Local government minister John Healey has urged councils to look beyond the 'here and now' and face up to some of the long-term, deep-rooted problems that affect their communities.

In an exclusive interview with Public Finance, Healey said councils should be focusing on how they can tackle problems such as entrenched unemployment, instead of worrying over the detail of their share of the local government finance settlement, announced last week.

Published on December 6, the settlement delivers overall real-terms increases of 0.9%, 0.1% and -0.1% in each of the next three years. The Local Government Association branded it the 'worst settlement for a decade'.

Healey has acknowledged the settlement is tight He told PF it was understandable that councils would be devoting their immediate energies to making sense of the figures.

"The bottom line for any local authority is how much,' he said. 'But I want to encourage local authorities to look beyond the here and now, beyond the how much, at the three years ahead and beyond that.'

He said the £1.5bn Working Neighbourhoods Fund, announced alongside the settlement, gave eligible councils the opportunity to target stubborn pockets of deprivation in line with national ambitions for economic revival.

Healey added that the settlement gave local government what it had been asking for, namely the ability to plan ahead, fewer ring-fenced grants and greater flexibility and freedom.

'If [central] government is going to respond to what local government is asking for, which is more flexibility, more freedom, the scope to lead, then local government has got to look less to central government for the go-ahead, for detailed guidance of what they've got to do and how they do it,' Healey told PF on December 11.

'I'm not trying to take central government out of our responsibility to provide the policy and funding framework for local government, but I am arguing that local government leaders need to do more to demonstrate leadership, and take some of the decisions that are going to be required of them, just as we do in central government'

Healey harked back to the nineteenth century, saying there was a need for today's council chiefs to emulate the enterprise and innovation shown by their Victorian predecessors, who used surpluses generated by trade to invest in services and infrastructure. …

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