The crisis will end. We may not yet have a time scale but we know it will end and we know that as a consequence of the crisis it won’t be business as usual. While the majority are focused on the immediate and short term problems, local government leaders need to identify individuals to start thinking about the exit strategy and recovery plan.
Just as the crisis has required central government to trust local government to deliver, whether that was free up hospital beds or get the homeless off the streets, central government will require local government to deliver the exit strategy and recovery plan. It will be local government that provides community leadership, it will be local government that is tasked to support the recovery of small businesses, it will be local government who will be expected to tackle the social and family problems resulting from poverty, unemployment, homelessness and low level mental health issues in the aftermath of COVID-19.
The recovery will be of a different pace in different parts of the country and be influenced by local factors. The challenges facing local government will require creativity and imagination. For this to happen local authorities will not just need more money they will need the flexibility to use the money. In other words an end to ring-fencing and specific grants and the ability to raise funds locally. For the recovery plan to be successful at a local level politicians will need to look again at the balance between local government and central government. A good starting point might be to dig out the Lyons report.
The balance between local government and central government has since the Second World War shifted towards central government. Central government is historically suspicious of local government. They distrust those in local government of a different political persuasion believing they cannot be relied on to enthusiastically deliver government policies, at best they may procrastinate at worst challenge and undermine. So it is no surprise that those in power, whatever party, have felt the only way to ensure their policies are delivered is to take more control and to use the allocation of funding to ensure their policies were delivered.
The need for a robust recovery plans at a local level means its time central government recognised that if they can rely on local government in a crisis like a pandemic then they can trust local authorities to deliver a recovery plan. If those in central government have been paying attention they will have recognised the perils of micro management. They just don’t have the knowledge, experience or skills to manage local services from social care to refuse collection, from distribution of food parcels to supporting small businesses, from getting the homeless off the streets to hospital discharges from supporting vulnerable people in their own home to coordinating voluntary services from tackling domestic violence to operating child protection services.
So give LA’s the flexibility to spend and watch them come up with local solutions to local problems.
Blair Mcpherson is a former director, and an author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk