Councillor Howard Sykes is the Liberal Democrat Group Leader at the Local Government Association. In the latest of his guest blogs, he talks about what Brexit means for local government.
Belated Happy New Year!
I don’t know about you but I began 2019 with the best of intentions, vowing to ditch bad habits for good. But already the last traces of willpower are fading away. Three weeks into the New Year, most people have given up their New Year’s resolutions – just weeks after they were made. (Three-quarters of 3,000 British adults surveyed in January admitted they were no longer confident they would stick to their promises even for the rest of the month.)
The most popular resolutions this year as I understand it related to physical and emotional wellbeing, with seven out of ten joining a gym or going jogging in the past two weeks.
But the New Year’s resolutions I do know that I need to be on target for are centred on my work as a local councillor: getting candidates lined up for our target seats; ensuring we have a full slate across the borough and getting that firmed up; sorting out our literature timetable and funds to help pay for it all.
These resolutions are the ones we can’t break!
Whilst the Brexit farce continues in Westminster, local government received the news that councils will receive an additional £56.5m over this year and next to prepare for Brexit.
Panic seems to have gripped Housing and Communities Secretary James Brokenshire as he wakes up the mess that is heading our way. The ministry was right to be criticised last year when it failed to bid for a share of £1.5bn allocated to different departments to prepare for Brexit.
In a written statement, Mr Brokenshire said all district councils will receive £35,000 over the period, county councils have been all allocated £175,000 and unitary councils £210,000. Combined authorities will receive £182,000 as well.
Councils “facing immediate impacts from local ports” like Portsmouth, for example, where Liberal Democrat council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson recently showed Vince Cable in person the problems his city will face, will receive a share of £1.5m this year.
Whilst this funding will help councils to help address the problems caused by Brexit, it is shocking that the government will waste such much-needed resources whilst services are being allowed to crumble.
Before Christmas we saw the Local Government Finance Settlement released, delayed by the Brexit debate in Parliament. It has no long term solution for local government finance – councils still face a funding gap of more than £3 billion this year.
The money councils have to provide local services is running out fast and there is huge uncertainty about how they will pay for them into the next decade and beyond. The upcoming Spending Review is absolutely crucial for councils, but I refuse to get my hopes up.
If we truly value our local services then we have to be prepared to pay for them. Fully funding councils is the only way they will be able to keep providing the services which make a difference to people’s lives, such as caring for older and disabled people, protecting children, building homes, fixing roads and collecting bins.
And on this, I am old fashioned. You do this by being honest with the public and telling them they need to pay more for quality public services. The fair way to do that is through progressive taxation like income tax.
Investing in local government services will also help reduce pressure on other parts of the public sector, such as the NHS, and save money for the public purse.
Councillor Howard Sykes MBE is the Liberal Democrat Group Leader at the Local Government Association. The LGA is a politically-led, cross-party organisation that works on behalf of 415 councils to ensure local government has a strong, credible voice with national government.