A bulging in-tray awaits the communities secretary next week

By Michael Burton | 06 June 2017
  • Michael Burton

Whoever walks into Marsham Street next Monday morning as the secretary of state for communities and local government, whether it be the incumbent Sajid Javid, or another, will find an in-tray filled with some very hot potatoes – and these won’t be an early lunch gift from civil servants.

First, the terrorist outrages during the election campaign have focused attention on the importance of community cohesion, part of the Communities and Local Government brief which often gets sidelined. There has also been substantial media coverage about the success or otherwise of the Prevent strategy in which social services departments have a key role. The communities secretary will almost certainly be tasked by the prime minister with focusing more attention on community cohesion to be ‘tough on the causes of crime’ while the Home Office handles the ‘tough on crime’ bit.

The communities secretary however will also have a second hot potato to juggle, namely 100% business rate retention. All the main parties promised in their manifestos a review of the business rate system with the inference that the burden of rates needs to be reduced. It is hard to see how this review can be carried out at the same time that the Government intends making business rate the mainstay of local government funding in barely three years. Expect some announcement on this.

Social care funding is another hot potato which the Government must address now rather than kick into the long grass. None of the manifesto pledges tackle the root problem which is that demand continues to rise and funding cut. Local government, more recently supported by the health sector, has been warning for years of a funding crisis. The Government cannot wait another five years to come up with a solution.

Devolution was mentioned in passing by party manifestos but the terrorist attacks have highlighted the leadership roles of newly elected Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, the latter even finding himself a global figure because of a bizarre Twitter dispute with the US president. Both Burnham and Khan have, inadvertently through tragic circumstances, enhanced the public image of elected mayors. We can expect more of them.

The prime minister on Friday will therefore need to think carefully about who takes on the role of communities secretary. The job has got a whole lot more important.

• My book, The Politics of Austerity: A Recent History, is out now, published by Palgrave Macmillan

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