When The MJ was set up a century and a quarter ago, it aimed to follow the newly-formed county councils – initially in London – which, in turn, were modernising Victorian living conditions, tackling poverty and building infrastructure.
Despite the huge advances made – from cars to computers – there are constant themes. Reorganisation rows roll on as the sector consistently struggles with the best options for form and function. Emergency planning is a continuum, with local government rebuilding after two world wars, countless disasters and mending communities after riots and unrest.
There are endless housing crises, as policy-makers and practitioners address problems with conditions, planning, building and supply – just as we are facing them again in 2019. From the workhouses of the 1880s and throughout the decades, councils are on the frontline of poverty again in some places, grappling with Universal Credit and growing food bank use.
The most enduring issue is funding, with fears over fiscal cuts and calls for more cash. But, despite 125 years of editorial coverage, there’s never a complaint from local government about being over-funded.
There was the rise and fall of organisations – the Greater London Council, the Audit Commission, the Standards Board. The start of SOLACE and the LGA and countless Government departmental reshuffles. And then there are the scandals. From Shirley Porter to Jim Speechley, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Donnygate – or worse still in Rotherham, Haringey and Cleveland.
In truth, it’s not the failures that mark local government, but the lack of them – as identified by the Committee on Standards in Public Life this week. Despite working on the frontline of public services, tackling the toughest issues and supporting the most vulnerable people, local government officers and members work tirelessly to deliver for their people and their communities.
Some of the most impressive and inspirational people I have ever met work in local public services and it is a privilege to work alongside them. On behalf of The MJ, thank you for the last 125 years. We will look forward to the next 125.