New central-local deal makes history
Last week, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) signed what both sides called a ‘historic’ agreement. For the first time, it set out the boundaries of central and local government in a widely acclaimed concordat. According to CLG, councils now ‘have the right to lead the delivery of public services in their areas and shape [their] future without unnecessary direction or control’.
Potentially, this paves the way for authorities to pool budgets with, say, NHS primary care trusts, and other government agencies, to deliver seamless services for children and older and disabled people across the public sector. It means more emphasis on local agreements to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour.
At the other extreme, the concordat lays down that central government has the right to ‘set national policies, including minimum standards and service’. On the surface, this seems ground-breaking stuff.
Hazel Blears, the communities and local government secretary, enthuses: ‘It sets out in some detail our respective roles, responsibilities, rights, with emphasis not just on shifting power to councils, but also making it incumbent on councils to shift power to their communities. For me that is the big prize.’
Sir Simon Milton, Conservative chairman of the LGA, was so enthusiastic that he praised Blears’ ‘courage and commitment’. The LGA was clearly delighted the concordat committed central government to work towards giving councils the ‘autonomy’ enjoyed by authorities elsewhere in the EU.
But have other key departments bought into the Blears agenda? And will they pool budgets with councils? Outwardly, the minister is upbeat. She has set up 11 ‘demonstration projects’, in various areas, and attached a minister to each of them. They could be ‘very imaginative,’ she says. But would a central enforcer be needed to bang heads together? ‘I think that is probably my role,’ she concludes.