Chris Leslie, Director, NLGN
When the returning officer reads out your name as the duly elected Member of Parliament for the aforesaid constituency, there is a moment of elation and exhilaration quickly followed by anticipation of exciting things to come. For many MPs, though, this moment of triumph will not have been their first at an election count, given the now well-established trend where a near majority of MPs have already been elected as local councillors previously. A locally elected background can be an excellent apprenticeship for national politics – I had served three years as a Bradford councillor before winning Shipley at the 1997 General Election. But if you imagine that going from local to national government is an exponential leap into greater complexity, tougher debate, or higher-stakes intrigue, you would be wrong.
Dick Sorabji, Head of Policy, NLGN
Local Government Chronicle
As Whitehall’s joining up agenda gathers pace there is a need for sharper executive leadership. Direct elections to the executive will help, but this has been seen as a threat to the backbench, or local councillor.
In fact separate elections for local councillors, representing a specific neighbourhood, but excluded from the executive could achieve three goals: attract more diverse talent to elected office, create a constituency that will drive through government plans for empowered neighbourhoods and reverse recent problems with the role of non-executive elected office.
In the world of office politics – especially in the public sector – there are a few universal truths that emerge from time to time. One is that there will always be tensions between those who direct change and those who implement it. The relationship between political leadership and senior officers can sometimes depend on the comparative strengths of an elected mandate versus a permanent specialist expertise. In central government there are, in theory, long-standing conventions to determine how decisions are taken and implemented, though the temptation for caricature can be overwhelming. In one episode of ‘Yes Minister’ these tensions boiled over into a classic case of civil-service speak…
Chris Leslie, Director, NLGN
How fashionable is ‘localism’ at the moment? Wrestling power away from Whitehall and drawing decision-making down to the most relevant local level has gathered momentum as a popular concept within government and the opposition parties. But the test of true ‘new localism’ must surely be more than the degree of largesse shown by a superior authority to smaller units. The real test should be the extent to which big decisions are shared and whether the national-local power relationship is transformed.
Perhaps one good measure is the extent to which locally elected representatives have a visible role on the national political stage. I believe that there is now a great opportunity to reassert the importance of local governance – not only injecting fresh momentum into the freedoms and flexibilities agenda, but going further, increasing the prominence of local democracy at that national level.
Ian Parker, Head of Strategic Communications, NLGN
Those who attack ‘spin’ in politics often date it from the arrival of New Labour in the UK and the beginning of the Clinton era in the US. In truth, ‘spin’ – or what might be termed the tactical use of emphasis in political communications – has been around as long as the Tuscan hills. Well, at least since Machiavelli offered his many words of wisdom to the Florentine Medici.
Once upon a time, over a century ago, our great municipal forefathers built the great cities of Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Birmingham and elsewhere from a foundation of local government strength, where Mayors and Council Leaders were respected alongside some of the nation’s leading figures. Times have changed, and while there is enormous cynicism about politics and politicians in general, few people would naturally assume that their local councillor is a powerful political figure, and local government in particular has suffered a decline in respect, participation and awareness. This is a great shame, not only because we desperately need to build up the strength of our neighbourhoods and cities to fight for attention from a strong central government, but also because local democracy matters.
The news that local authorities are well on course to achieve government targets for efficiency savings was announced with quiet satisfaction by ODPM at the beginning of August. Understandably so, when there has been a relatively smooth transition from announcement to delivery, particularly considering the trepidation within local government when it was announced that £6.45 billion of savings had to be achieved by 2007-08. This trepidation has been replaced by a renewed confidence in the ability of local authorities to meet and surpass central government efficiency requirements. Even more impressively, local authorities expect to exceed the required £1 billion in efficiency gains for the period 2005-06.
Anna Randle, Head of Policy, NLGN
Local Government Chronicle
Active citizenship is a key strand of current government thinking. The idea is as follows: multiple benefits can be achieved through citizens becoming more engaged and active in their communities, including the building of individual capacity, the strengthening of community cohesion and the improvement of local services and the fabric of the area.