Simon Clarke’s surprise resignation as local government minister will be a blow to the sector. He has been unusually popular – with both local government and senior central Government politicians – for a minister that has presided over pandemics, problems and financial instability.
But most of all he has been at the forefront of devolution and local government reorganisation, spearheading the White Paper, which is just weeks away. It begs the question, what happens now?
Local authorities across the country have invested heavily in getting their bids for unitary status together. Fresh out of COVID crisis mode, they have spent time and what energy they had left – along with the cash they could ill afford on consultancy fees – pulling together proposals.
Now, there are question marks over just how far the reorganisation will go. Stalled in No.10, the clock is ticking and only the strongest bids look likely to get the go-ahead – and that was before the key player stepped out of the game.
There are many reasons why restructuring local government is a problem – not least the lengthy list of priorities facing councils post-pandemic – but the defence of foot soldiers is not one of them.
Now that the pain of the process is done, the least Government can do is see it through.
Ultimately, this is a Government fighting on all fronts. Still battling COVID and frantically trying to rebuild the economy. Still fighting for a Brexit deal, and facing another onslaught on the economy. Launching into a war with its own civil servants, in a bid to modernise.
The question is, does reorganisation matter enough for the Johnson Government to spend time on it? In the next few weeks we will find out – and maybe we can get back to the devolution part of the deal.
But it’s not just the Government that will see the issues piling up. So far, communities secretary Robert Jenrick has concentrated his efforts on housing. He still doesn’t have a plan for local government finance, for the future of social care, or for a whole host of other issues.
With a reshuffled ministerial team, there is a lot to do.