Howard Davies: Can local government survive a third Labour term?

From a speech by the director of the London School of Economics, at the LSE-Local Government Association debate

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There are those in central government who seem deeply suspicious of local government, and to be locked in the "Whitehall knows best" school of thinking. Sadly, those people include Nick Raynsford, the Local Government Minister.

There are those in central government who seem deeply suspicious of local government, and to be locked in the "Whitehall knows best" school of thinking. Sadly, those people include Nick Raynsford, the Local Government Minister.

Some people would argue, he says in his speech on The Future of Local Government, "that central government should give local government much more discretion to get on with the job. And put it more crudely, get off local government's back."

What is wrong with that, you may ask? Well, in Raynsford's view, there is a lot wrong with it because "that's not the right way forward".

He goes on, "we need a better partnership between local and central government". There is no argumentation here, you will note, simply an assertion that "that's not the right way forward". I strongly suggest that the outcome of the exercise to define a new vision for local government, if it is left in the hands of those currently in charge, is likely to be a further diminution in the role of local authorities.

There must come a point at which we put the nature of our local democracy at risk, and it is very hard to be optimistic about the future under this government, unless it changes tack. The positive elements of the Government's policies towards local government - elected mayors, the regional assemblies, and postal voting - are stalled, while the centralising agenda, pulling more and more services under central government control, continues apace.

Unless there is some rebalancing in the next few months, leading up to the third term manifesto, the prospect for local government under Blair "3" look gloomy. We may see a re-empowered local authority in Basra, but not in Bassetlaw.

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