Apart from his well-publicised profanities regarding grammar schools, former Labour Minister, Tony Crosland – who died in 1977 – is also remembered for his prescient invocation to local government - ‘The Party is Over.’
At the time, it had the same resonance as John Reid’s more recent conclusion that the Home Office was ‘not fit for purpose’. But Crosland’s words are particularly relevant today at a time of severe economic stringency and on the back of the massive increase in local government expenditure over the last decade.
The next Government needs to get a real grip on local government expenditure, in particular by compelling Local Authorities to become far more efficient. Post the General Election, major cost reductions – partly through job losses – seem inevitable. Birmingham City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council are amongst those widely expected to announce major job cuts shortly. Because both include several marginal constituencies, public debate on the issue has been constrained.
Apart from reducing the perennial over-staffing of local government, its higher echelons should also become subject to a cap on emolument levels. After all, some Local Authority employees are earning over £150,000 per year for undertaking essentially administrative roles. Far more detailed information should also be available about how wage inflation has taken off in local government over the last decade. Furthermore, high-on-the-hog local government expenditure should be eliminated. Even if half the stories are only half accurate, the many allegations of wasted money are disturbing.
Two beacons of Local Authority excellence do, though, stand out:
- Wandsworth Council in South-West London has delivered improved service levels and demonstrated financial efficiency for over a generation.
- -Hammersmith and Fulham Council, under Conservative control, has managed to cut its Council Tax by 3% per year for four successive years.
Why can’t other Local Authorities nationwide emulate them?