And the Conservative policy flip-flops keep on coming – how much flexibility will there really be for local government?

Listening to Conservative spokespeople over the last few years, you would have been forgiven for thinking that the Tories believed in devolution of powers and responsibilities to local councils.

Conservative policy last February – and let’s be clear that is all of twelve months ago, so that’s time for the Tories to have at least 365 conflicting policies – was, according to their document “Control Shift”, quite clear:

“No action – except raising taxes, which requires specific parliamentary approval – will any longer be ‘beyond the powers’ of local government in England, unless [it] is prevented from taking that action by the common law, specific legislation or statutory guidance.”

Now – surprise surprise – Local Government Chronicle is reporting that the latest small-print says something rather different.  Caroline Spelman, the Shadow Communities Secretary, is now using the phrase about Councils being able to do what is “legal and reasonable” – more or less the same as the current arrangements where local government is bound by Wednesbury principles of reasonableness and cannot act “ultra vires”.  They quote a legal expert pointing out that:

“To achieve an unrestricted world for local government, it would be necessary to abolish the ultra vires doctrine, as has been done for companies.  But it would appear that’s a step too far for any political party.”

And at the same time, Local Government Chronicle is saying – exclusively – that Shadow Chief Secretary Phillip Hammond has slapped down Conservative Council Leaders who were trying to put some flesh on the bones of the Tory devolution proposals.

2 thoughts on “And the Conservative policy flip-flops keep on coming – how much flexibility will there really be for local government?”

  1. Local authorities will wish to seek the sort of rights Parish Councils managed to obtain by the “penny rate” in the ’70s I suppose, but on a larger scale.

    The most likely extension of the powers of Local Councils would be in line with Carswell/Hannan’s “The Plan” – the power to cut the benefits of the unemployed, for example, in areas where there are jobs.

    Local Authorities would have a role in Chameleon’s world.

    As I remarked before: “Cuts.”

  2. Tories talk loftily about handing power back to “local” people but they seem to reserve the right to grumble about the results.

    For example, the eager young member for the Forest of Dean has complained that those of his constituents who get their health services in Wales receive a different set of service levels and options to those who receive them in England.

    Such “postcode lotteries” are the inevitable consequence of any meaningful devolution.

    And, anyone who can recall Tory MPs harumphing about the dreadful things that leftie teachers (ie, in their eyes, most of them) allegedly taught their pupils, will snort at Tory talk about returning power over the curriculum to schools….

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