ECONOMIC GROWTH

A Faer Point

There are fewer levers for council leaders to pull in their areas. Visible services are reduced and demand-led services are set to dominate in the future - but some councils have bucked the trend, says partner at Faerfield Martin Tucker.

Even without the big headline wins – like Rushmoor or the West Midlands mayoralty – the local election results suggest a strong anti-incumbent mood.

No surprise, perhaps, given where we are in the national electoral cycle; but the local stories are rather more nuanced. One council leader is reported to have said: ‘I wouldn't have minded losing if we'd been terrible – but actually I think we've done a good job with the resources at our disposal, and still got kicked out.'

Resources certainly matter. As with other studies, the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities' recent analysis of the change in council spending power between 2010-11 and 2024-25 shows many authorities have seen significant reductions in central funding over the period. Across the country there are fewer levers for council leaders to pull in their areas. Visible services are reduced and demand-led services are set to dominate in the future.

But some councils have bucked the trend. For a period after 2010, Barnsley was also near the top of the list of councils hardest hit by cuts – yet it went on to win an unprecedented ‘Council of the Year' double in 2023. Barnsley's chief executive Sarah Norman ascribes their success to ‘visionary political leadership, a willingness to take brave decisions, lots of innovation and employee empowerment, and sheer determination'.

One of Barnsley's award-winning predecessors was Plymouth City Council, whose culture-led regeneration, and a sense of place, together with a unified vision for residents, were key factors. Again, the basics of economic development, capital investment that creates destinations and great partnerships underpin its progress.

And there are other examples, including those who are exploring the Community Wealth approach, developed by the think-tank, Centre for Local Economic Strategies, which focuses on the role of anchor institutions to retain wealth and opportunity for people.

So, when Sarah says: ‘What we have achieved, other places can too', she may have a point…

Martin Tucker is a partner at Faerfield

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