British Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series, second edition

by Robert Leach, Bill Coxall and Lynton Robins

Chapter 17 notes - Local Government and Politics

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  • While there is a strong case for democratic local institutions, there are problems with the practice of local democracy including public ignorance and apathy and relatively weak local accountability.
  • Elected local authorities have lost some important functions since 1945, and no longer necessarily provide all the services themselves for which they retain responsibility. They are increasingly expected to work with (or ‘enable’) others, including appointed public agencies, to provide local services rather than provide those services directly themselves.
  • Local governance is a term widely used to cover all local community decision-making and the delivery of local public services.
  • Repeated reorganizations of authorities, boundaries and functions over half a century have failed to produce a structure which satisfactorily reflects community identities and ensures efficient and effective local service provision. Local government remains varied and confusing, particularly in England.
  • Attempts to make local authority decision-making and accountability more transparent, through (for example) elected mayors and local cabinets have as yet had little impact.
  • Local government only finances a minority of its own spending from locally determined taxes (now the Council Tax), receiving the bulk of its money from central government grants. Local government taxation has long been controversial. Liberal Democrats seek to replace the Council Tax with a local income tax.
  • Local public bodies of all kinds now work within a framework of multi-level governance. They have to work with other public bodies, the private and voluntary sectors within their own area, but also need to relate upwards not only to UK central government, but also to the European Union, devolved national government and regional administration, and downwards to particular institutions, community and parish councils.
  • The coalition government promise to decentralize power may not significantly increase local autonomy, particularly as local authorities will lose responsibilities for many schools under current plans.