Over 100 senior councillors recently had a meeting with Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles and his team in Birmingham. They outlined their vision for local government, explained the announcements already made and stressed the savings the local public sector would need to find.
Then Eric, Bob Neill and Joan Hanham took over an hour of questions from an audience keen to know the details and likely impact on their own councils.
This meeting was an important signal that the coalition is determined that national government never again loses touch with local government. With powers being devolved from the centralised state to local councils and communities, ongoing connections and relationships between both tiers have taken on a new importance.
The Local Government Association leadership and other senior Town Hall figures are in with Ministers on a weekly basis. If anything, this open-door approach is likely to increase as local government brings forward a variety of approaches to reorganise and find major savings whilst protecting, even enhancing, local services.
With the budget announced, local government now knows the scale of the task before us. If we are going to search out different and cheaper ways of operating before we even consider reducing essential services, then we are going to have to stop thinking about what works best for councils and concentrate on what works best for those we serve.
Now that Whitehall is getting off our back, we have the opportunity to find different and distinctive ways of running, commissioning or scrutinising local public services. Instead of Cumbria’s solutions being determined in SW1, Cumbria can now decide what works best for Cumbria. And finally we might get Local Government that is local and actually governs rather than simply delivers services according to centralised diktat.