I was planning for this to be a blog about the implications of Labour’s freshly leaked manifesto for local government. As it turns out this is a very difficult thing to do. Labour’s plans – were they enacted – would amount to such an ambitious and radical overhaul of multiple policy areas that every part of the British state and society would be deeply affected by numerous overlapping and interacting changes. As such, the complexity of the impact on any one area defies my analytical abilities.
Nevertheless, I think it may just be possible to summarise some of the changes that are proposed which most obviously directly affect local government.
Council Funding and Local Growth:
- A £250 billion programme of infrastructure investment which will be implemented in a way to ensure fair distribution across every region and nation of the UK.
- The establishment of regional development banks to lend to local businesses.
- Introduce one publicly owned energy company in every region and establish a Local Energy Task Force to establish community energy co-operatives.
- Reform business rates including, ahead of a full review, switching from RPI to CPI indexation, exempting new investment in plants and machinery from valuations, and ensuring that businesses have access to a proper appeals process.
- Any shortfall in EU structural funds to be covered by British Government for the duration of the next parliament.
- Give communities more power to protect Post Offices, community pharmacies, local pubs and independent shops and prevent high street vacancies including introducing legislation to ban banks from closing branches where there is “local need”.
- Rural-proofing for all areas of policy plus fair funding for rural councils.
- Enable the creation of municipal bus companies and introduce regulations to designate and protect routes of critical community value.
Councils as Employers and Commissioners:
- Councils to be required to ensure responsible practices in their supply chain on a range of measures such as workers’ rights, environmental practice and a 20:1 high to low pay ratio.
- Implementation of a 20:1 pay ratio across the public sector.
- Consider re-introducing a national pay structure for local government staff.
- Guarantee the right of all EU nationals to stay in the UK indefinitely.
- Keep all EU protected rights for employees after Brexit.
- Councils to be allowed to open new schools.
- The public sector pay cap to be ended.
- A million new homes to be built including 100,000 council and housing association homes with “genuinely affordable” rents.
- Green belt to be protected and brownfield sites to be prioritised for building.
- Rent controls introduced.
- Abolition of right-to-buy and councils only allowed to sell homes if they have plans to replace their stock.
- Extra resources and powers for planning authorities.
- Repeal the Health and Social Care Act and establish a National Care Service “rooted in the traditions of our National Health Service”. Consultation to be launched on the funding model for the National Care Service.
- Introduce £8bn of extra funding for social care over the lifetime of the next Parliament.
Young people and education:
- Establish a National Education Service to move towards cradle-to-grave learning that is free at the point of use and allow councils to open new schools.
- Cuts to youth services ended.
- Prevent closure of further Sure Start Centres.
- Commission a review into creating a National Fostering Service.
- Establish a constitutional convention to explore and reform “where power and sovereignty lies in politics, the economy, the justice system, and in our communities”.
Although local government appears a lot in the manifesto one way or another, localism and place-based approaches do not feature strongly. Devolution is only mentioned twice. Labour commits itself to establishing a “presumption of devolution” so that all powers returned from the EU are devolved to the “relevant region or nation”. Elsewhere it describes itself as the “party of devolution” but provides no more detail on what this means in practice. There is no mention, for example, of what will happen to the devolution deals put in place by the last Government.
The truth, however, is that were Labour to be elected and were it able to enact this incredibly ambitious programme (alongside the pressures of the Brexit process, of course), local government would be utterly transformed just by virtue to having to operate in such a fundamentally different polity. The state would become a far more powerful player in the market as business owner regulator and provider of expanded public services. It seems reasonably likely that would mean a bigger role for local government. The creation of a National Care Service, however, does leave open the question of whether councils’ largest area of activity would remain under their auspices.
This is, of course, a leaked draft and elements may change. Most notable by its absence, for example, is any costing for the programme or detailed account of how it is going to be funded. That may change by the time the manifesto is published. But it has to be said that there are an awful lot of spending commitments. It is hard to believe that all of it can be paid for through the proposed rises in corporation tax and higher rate income tax alone especially since the fiscal rules outlined in the manifesto commit Labour to only borrow for capital spending while eliminating the deficit and reducing debt.
I plan to do an update when the final version is published.