Last week I was joined in Preston by the Shadow Chancellor, local councillors, activists and academics to outline new approach to local government in order to help councils keep money flowing into local economies and communities.
In 2018 we rightly expect an adult and children’s social care system that we can have faith in, as well as protecting the most vulnerable in society whilst still delivering local services such as bin collections and libraries. As Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government I know only too well how hard councils and councillors across the country work as the last line of defence to ensure we still deliver these services for the community.
Our councils are in this situation because for year after year they have borne the brunt of severe central government budget cuts, with little or no support; that is why Labour proposes a different path.
Labour takes this problem seriously which is why we have already committed to addressing the burden that local government have borne under Tory austerity.
We have committed to bringing public services under public control at both national and local level to reduce costs and improve service as well as using the £200 billion national and local government spends in the private sector currently to upgrade our economy locally which will create good local jobs and reduce inequality.
Labour have now taken this further; in Preston we announced that a future Labour government will bring together councillors, unions, think tanks, and independent experts with experience of delivering frontline change.
This new approach will provide councils with knowledge, advice, and practical support in adopting creative methods to secure and provide vital services and stimulate sustainable economic development for communities in the face of austerity – we only need to take the example of Preston to see the difference this can make.
The Labour-run council returned almost £200 million to the local economy as well as supporting more than 1,600 jobs by using the town’s anchor institutions and local government contracts to keep money in the local economy and develop worker-owned cooperatives.
Labour want to learn from these excellent examples which is why we have decided to take a different approach than the one set by the current government. We know that local communities are best placed to make decisions for their own areas and we want to support them to achieve this.
These ideas have worked internationally, they have worked in Preston and they also achieved good results when Labour introduced them on a small scale in Tameside in response to the 2008 financial crash.
Locally, Labour initiated Tameside Works First, a programme of works that gave priority to local companies winning small public sector contracts. This meant that more money was kept in the local economy, encouraging new apprenticeships to be created and creating a fair spending circle across the borough.
Now although Tameside is a slightly different example as there are fewer ‘anchor’ institutions as we are part of a bigger city region; there are however a number of exciting new ways of working as a borough as well as across Greater Manchester in order to support local jobs and the economy that Tameside could learn from. New Tameside Council leader Brenda Warrington attended the announcement in Preston with me and she is equally committed to fresh approaches that enhance localism and benefit the local economy.
With Tory controlled Northamptonshire Country Council declaring bankruptcy in all but name (through the issuing of a Section 114 notice) and with many more councils of all political persuasions issuing severe budget warnings, we clearly need a fresh approach.
That’s why Labour will end the brewing succession of crisis for local Government and local businesses by leading the way on ideas regarding community ownership, community banks and local economic strategies – we will put financial power back into community’s hands.