The Communities department was missing in action today as the Queen outlined the coalition’s priorities for the year ahead. Local government ministers need to get more involved and press for amendments to a number of the Bills
Ronald Regan famously said: ‘Don’t just do something, stand there’. He believed that government should get out of people’s lives and that the Americans would be better served by an inactive government. As a localist I’ve spent years complaining about hyper-active central government in the UK, imposing too much legislation. Today though I actually wanted more from the Queen’s Speech.
A few months ago I wrote to the Prime Minister and senior members of the Cabinet urging a range of Bills, some of which made it into the programme today. It is good to hear that there will be a Bill to create new powers for the Children’s Commissioner and improve services for children in care, both things that the Local Government Information Unit has been campaigning for.
Similarly, we welcome mention of legislation on the future funding of adult social care although we are concerned that the plans are vague, and we would urge the government to confirm that legislation will follow the forthcoming White Paper. Chances of a lasting settlement on social care funding seem greater to us if the momentum is maintained and if we are far enough away from the next election. The lessons of 2010 are that once an election is on the horizon any political consensus will break down.
We wanted to see legislation on Community Budgets and on the Repeal of Statutory Duties but neither of these were included today. The Department of Communities and Local Government was missing in action today, perhaps because the Localism Bill was such a big feature of the last session.
I hope in the coming months that local government ministers press for amendments to two of today’s Bills. On the Enterprise Bill, this is very much led from the Business Department at the moment. Local government would welcome the inclusion in the Bill of significant new powers for Local Enterprise Partnerships. We also await more details of the Green Investment Bank. In the new Bills for the electricity and water industries, local authorities should be given strong scrutiny powers to hold companies to account.
The announcement of a National Crime Agency sounds like a centralising move in our police services, creating an American-style FBI to lead on serious and organised crime. Local authorities, who have a key role in community safety, will want reassurances that this will not strip out resources and resilience from local police forces.
As expected there will be a Bill to officially abolish the Audit Commission and put in place new processes. Local Authorities will not mourn the passing of the Audit Commission but they will want to know that any new arrangements are light touch and can be effective in giving the public confidence and helping local authorities to improve the effectiveness and value for money of local services
Further reforms to public service pensions have been expected but for local authorities these are hugely significant financially, and there is real potential of further industrial action by the public sector workforce, which of course has costs and implications for services. We would urge that before the Bill is presented there is a strong dialogue with local government and with public sector trade unions.
Ronald Regan again: ‘I’ve left orders to be awakened at any time in the event of an emergency – even if I’m in a Cabinet meeting’. Some might think that DCLG ministers need waking up.
Andy Sawford is chief executive of the Local Government Information Unit