The article by Jennifer Williams “The crisis in England’s councils” (The Big Read, January 24) is right to point out that local communities have almost no say in funding decisions that affect the places where they live.
Despite claiming otherwise, the key drivers are a 12-month grant cycle and the politics of the pork barrel.
There are alternatives; not least the option of giving people the chance to invest in their own communities. Local government is well run and can innovate where the right people are in place, as former council chief executive Max Caller rightly pointed out.
The biggest stumbling block is that the current funding system needs fixing as most local challenges involve every agency: councils, the NHS, policing and education. The current approach leaves no time or money for investing in problem-solving. There is little political will to do it as ministerial minds appear to be focused elsewhere.
Funding is still based on a system created in a crisis in the 1990s. Some councils can weather the storm because they have reserves or benefit from being feted with favorable grants from central government to keep them onside.
The other critical factor, which the article didn’t touch on, is the entire system is still using old census data.
The starting point for Whitehall would be admitting there is a problem and then holding a “listening up” exercise to establish what is needed — and where.
Ultimately, the problem is that ministers and the Treasury won’t like what they would hear—and as the article inferred—are terrified of giving up control.
Therapists, management gurus and many of the emerging generation of policy leaders champion “courageous conversations” as the start of fruitful change. Courage doesn’t currently appear on government balance sheets, so communities remain condemned to living in the municipal equivalent of Groundhog Day.
Editor, Public Finance, London EC1, UK