Communities secretary Robert Jenrick’s printworks planning approval may make for some uncomfortable tittle-tattle across Fleet Street and Westminster. But if the past year of the Johnson Government has taught us anything, it is that our PM is not one to bow to media pressure and sack his staff.
Deep in the midst of a pandemic, with a looming economic crisis which will dwarf the last recession, planning approval is not the biggest issue for local government. The impact Mr Jenrick can make in the Treasury probably is.
In nearly a year as secretary of state, Mr Jenrick – with the help of Treasury allies – has seen the ‘end of austerity’ Budget, easing the purse strings for struggling councils. There has been £3.2bn funding for the COVID crisis so far. It is hardly a cash bonanza, but it is a start.
Local government minister Simon Clarke has now said the Government is working on a plan for the financial sustainability of councils after the Local Government Association identified the need for another £6bn.
With the cacophony of voices decrying the tragic consequences of coronavirus in care homes, £6bn is – coincidently – the figure the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) predicts will be needed to get social care through the winter. There is always the danger social care will swallow up all resources – the graph of doom has never seemed so aptly named.
Now it appears the Government could be planning a return to league tables, with ‘fair funding’ rewards for peak performers
While I have never been averse to giving councils the ammunition they need to prove they are high performing, cutting off cash where councils are not delivering is punishing local people twice over. Judging councils on their pothole performance in the midst of an economic crisis is crass – and a sad indictment of what central government thinks councils do.
Unless the Government is planning to take care and local economic growth out of local government hands – which would be disastrous – it all comes back to the need to fund councils properly and let them deliver.
As every Government department is banging on the door of the Treasury, pleading for funding for hundreds of vital priorities, just how much clout does Robert Jenrick have? That will be the measure by which local government judges our secretary of state.