Dear Mr Johnson,
Congratulations on your election as leader of the Conservative Party and your appointment as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Now the real work will begin. Brexit is, of course, the only real thing on the agenda. With just three months to go before the final deadline to leave the European Union you need a plan – deal or no deal.
To get a Brexit decision through Parliament, that may mean a General Election. With the perilous state of national politics, divided between parties and Brexit factions, you will need to galvanise your local councillors to help bolster support on the ground. They are a loyal bunch and will no doubt oblige. But what next?
With a list of fanciful spending plans outlined in the leadership campaign – and no doubt more in the run-up to the General Election – local government is likely to be low down the list when it comes to cash handouts.
But there is no getting away from the basic fact – local government cannot go on as it is. You will need to answer a simple question: do you want to fund local government or do you want to scale back services to the basics?
As Mayor of London, you were convinced of the arguments for fiscal devolution. You understood the power of decisions made for London by a politician closer to the community. Will you still believe in devo when you are handing down power to local authorities? I hope so.
I could make a plea for more money, for fiscal devolution, for devolved powers. There are strong arguments for why you need to end the uncertainty and the need for councils to bid for every scrap of cash. But I won’t. I could argue you need to resolve problems with adult social care, children’s services and housing. But councils are experts in delivering their own services to their residents.
Instead, I would argue you only need to give councils one thing: respect.Respect your fellow politicians for their political mandate, their ability to deliver a vast array of local services efficiently and effectively under challenging financial circumstances. Respect their understanding of their own places.
You have an army of public servants who are striving to do the best for the people they serve and to boost the places they live. We all want the same thing, so give them the tools to deliver.
Yours, Heather Jameson, editor, The MJ