Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Local government: the past, the present and the future

an article by George Jones (London School of Economics) and John Stewart (Birmingham University) published in Public Policy and Administration Volume 27 Number 4 (October 2012)


Local government has faced critical issues since the 1970s.

The case is made for local government as the government of local communities. Local government is presented as the government of difference, both responding to and creating differences between areas.

The government of difference enhances the learning capacity of the system of government, a function not fully appreciated by central government.

The role of local government has been weakened by the policies of successive governments. There has been a failure to recognise the need to strengthen local representative democracy. An almost continuous process of reorganisation has fragmented community government.

These issues have arisen from a fundamentally defective relationship between local and central government.

The government’s approach fails to recognise that the main barriers to the development of localism lie in central government. Centralism remains dominant in the Localism Act and in Whitehall departments, even the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The government has failed to provide a financing system for local government that sustains localism: local authorities continue to be dependent on government grants. The way ahead is to change the culture of central government through a code on central–local government relations coordinated across all departments by a unit in the Cabinet Office and monitored by a joint committee of parliament; a genuine Localism Act; and a financial system in which local authorities draw most of their revenue from their own voters with taxes whose rates they determine.

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