Forward Thinking
14 April, 2005

Ian Parker, Head of Strategic Communications, NLGN
Local Government Chronicle

If recent media coverage is anything to go by, I seem to be unique among thirtysomethings in never having been a Dr Who obsessive. Sure I remember the hey-day of Tom Baker, and yes I maybe once dived behind a sofa when the daleks appeared. But to be honest, the show always struck me as a bit nerdy when there were footballs to be kicked. And my parents furniture suffered more when Stan Boardman appeared on the TV. Now, he was really scary.

One element of Dr Who however, that has always fascinated me is the Tardis. Not for its capacious charms, but for the time travel aspect: the ability to look at how things change and the opportunity to anticipate the future. Caught, as we are in the midst of a general election campaign, I can’t help thinking that most people in local government wouldn’t mind a trip forward. Not to the year 3000 or similar, just a month or so to the second week of May to see the hand we’ve been dealt by the new government.

Maybe there is something in the water but following on from LGC’s fine analysis last week of where things might turn next, big changes really do appear afoot. Policy-wise, elected mayors look as if they are about to come of age; while neighbourhood governance and community empowerment will set the broader tone. Although we’re still to really deal with how to get more people involved in local politics beyond those dedicated souls who do so without blinking.

At the same time – and ever-wary of major upsets that may embarrass the pollsters – political anoraks around the country are playing a mini-version of Fantasy Cabinet, wondering who will make up the local government ministerial team and hazarding a guess at what the over-arching ministry will be called.

NLGN has long favoured the setting up of a Department of Devolved Governance. This would ideally encompass the existing ODPM brief with that of the various ‘national’ offices (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Yet it would also carry additional responsibility for ensuring that all other delivery departments are doing so through a localist prism.

Given that both the title of the new department and its inevitable abbreviation, DDG sound as clumsy as its latter-day predecessors, we might want to think about something catchier while covering all bases. The also mooted Department for Communities, Regions and Nations sounds like a university faculty. So how about the Department for Identity, Sustainability, Community and, erm, Obesity – or DISCO for short.

From daleks to disco in so few paragraphs – this is all getting a bit “I Love the 1970s”, isn’t it? I must have hit the Tardis ‘back’ rather than ‘forward’ lever by mistake and that, of course, would be a real disaster.