10 September 2020, The Tablet

A civil society begins at base

Reform of local councils


The devastation caused to local government by central government austerity policies is the most underreported political upheaval in living memory. What has happened to local authorities as their funding was cut by 40 per cent, with more than 200,000 staff redundancies, was their almost silent deconstruction. Labour and the unions had cried wolf too often for their cries of protest to be heeded; and the Liberal Democrats, as partners in David Cameron’s coalition, were actually complicit in the Conservatives’ austerity strategy. As for subsidiarity, the key principle here, nobody seemed to know what it meant, let alone why it mattered.

Now the government of Boris Johnson has declared its commitment to local democracy. It has begun, so to speak, to talk the talk. But beyond the extra funds provided for the fight against coronavirus, there has been no promise of funding to restore local government to anything like its former glory. So no walking the walk, so far. England in particular, with no equivalent to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, retains one of the most centralised political structures in the world.

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