That was the local government week that was
As always with our weekly round up we are at least a week behind the rather excellent Richard Vize whose weekly column for the Guardian Local Government Network is a local government journalistic highlight for us. This (well, last) week he tackled the issue of integration and took a long hard look at the DCLG’s latest plan; one that unsurprisingly omitted much mention of local government. As Richard points out:
The near absence of councils from this strategy is as good an indicator as any of how the government is intent on marginalising local government in national life. While some councils have historically been responsible for failing to see how their communities were dividing before it was too late, many have shown courage, passion and ingenuity in bringing local people together, and putting integration at the heart of what they do.
His argument about the absence of housing from the strategy is also incredibly well made and should be taken on by the DCLG.
Sticking with the GLGN I absolutely loved this piece from Councillor Rex Osborne. He makes the case for more evidence based policy and the direction he takes is one that I really appreciate:
All I’m looking for is something as basic as, asking (and answering) the question: if we cut A, what will the affect be on area B and person C? This would be hugely beneficial to policy makers, councillors, and the public alike.
Such analysis could be both prospective and retrospective, assessing how cuts could be anticipated to affect certain groups or areas, and later examining what has actually happened, and how far (or not) this has diverged from expectations.
The whole piece is well worth a read.
Being a little too geeky for our own good we are quite a fan of the New Local Government Network and were taken with their aim for the year ahead: ‘making central government irrelevant’. It’s not going to happen anytime soon but the direction is right and some of the projects sound really interesting.
However, it was the last paragraph of Simon Parker’s blog launching the year ahead that really attracted us:
And finally, we plan to take a hard look at politics. Local democracy suffers from a number of chronic ailments, to which the government has now added challenging new forms of direct democracy. But despite all the radical change in local services, there has been very little innovation in governance structures. We hope to kickstart a debate about the kind of political leadership councils need to survive the next five years – how will councillors have to behave, what skills will they need, and what new roles might they have to adopt? Addressing these questions is critical for the sector’s future, and if I had to choose just one project for 2012/13 this would be it.
If we had to pick one project to really follow this year that would be it too.
I know nothing (and I mean by that little more than the basics) about local government pension fund management. Indeed, apart from the odd occasion when a local authority inadvertently invests in a company that then pollutes a small country I’ve never even heard it debated in local government land (perhaps I read the wrong papers). However, it is mighty important (as it is meant to pay for us in retirement) and therefore it was a pleasant surprise to see a blog about in on the LGIU website. Whether the advice is correct I have no idea but the scale of the money involved suggests it should probably be a little higher profile:
Council pension funds require the investment of almost £140 billion. It is tempting to subcontract this responsibility to highly compensated and prestigious financial firms but there is a cheaper way. We could invest the majority of this money in index funds. These investments simply replicate a chosen index e.g. the FTSE 100. The chart below shows the returns on the FTSE 100 over the last seventy years. Regular investment in a tracker fund is a low cost means of accessing this growth.
Meanwhile on the ConservativeHome local government blog was this intelligent piece about council tax revaluation and how it might be implemented. As the author (John Moss) points out this debate is long overdue:
There are strong arguments in favour of a general revaluation of all domestic properties for Council Tax purposes. The most compelling is that Council Tax banding is based on 1991 values and therefore takes no account of differential changes in value over the last 21 years.
Those who live in the most expensive parts of the UK have seen their values rise by 350-450%, those in the lowest values areas have seen them rise just by 150-200%. To put that in to simple language, if you built identical four bedroom houses today, one in Hammersmith worth £1.4m and one in Durham worth £550,000, for Council Tax purposes the house in Durham would be in Band H, but the house in Hammersmith would be in Band G. This is because of the perverse effects of “de-indexing” which I described in my earlier article.
The different rate of change of value means that those living in expensive areas which have seen high rates of growth are benefitting twice. First from the higher rates of growth increasing the value of the equity in their properties and second – because of the lack of political will to revalue – from lower taxes than they should be paying. So we should revalue. The question is how?
There’s plenty more where these came from so keep reading and if anything you read should be on here please do let us know.
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