Rapid urbanisation, the global recession and growing unemployment is changing the role of local government. It is widely acknowledged around the world that being ahead of such change is vital, not just for the delivery of basic services, but wider economic and social development and indeed local democracy itself.
Many national governments are moving towards a more decentralised and localised approach, ensuring that services are provided where and when they are needed. In particular, there is a growing recognition across the Commonwealth and elsewhere about the rise of cities as key drivers for local and regional growth. The LGA’s new campaign, Investing In Our Nation’s Future, is an ambitious part of this wider process of change.
For local and national economies to thrive and grow, councils must be able to adapt to rapid changes in local, national and international markets. But in order to do this they must also be empowered. Councils in the UK have an impressive track record in public service reform and taking responsibility for their improvement. Yet so much more could be achieved if they were free to act more independently.
The Commonwealth Local Government Forum welcomes its UK-member, the LGA’s new campaign to transform public services and tackle long term issues such as sustainable funding, youth unemployment, public health and housing. Local authorities are best placed to improve living conditions and promote growth and the experiences of local government across the Commonwealth attest to this.
In countries such as Canada and South Africa councils already exercise significant fiscal powers and responsibilities. Tax assignments in Canada such as the Federal Gas Tax Fund are also critical to providing predictable, long-term, stable local infrastructure funding for municipalities and in South Africa, local government is enshrined in the country’s constitution.
In New Zealand, local government is increasingly working with national government to ensure the country’s trade and investment strategy both harnesses local leadership and know-how, and leverages real benefits for local and regional economies. Councils in Australia have shown creativity and innovation in recent years by commercialising some of their services and marketing them internationally. Whether it’s plugging financial gaps, delivering better services or ensuring long term stability for investors, local government must be empowered to respond to the challenges ahead.
The LGA’s campaign is bold and ambitious. If the new government puts in place a devolved model for public services which, for instance, builds a million more homes, halves the number of unemployed young people and reduces long-term unemployment by a third, it would put the UK in the mainstream of Commonwealth good practice and serve to underline the importance of developmental local government.
As we celebrate the start of the 20th Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, we are also celebrating the evolving role of developmental local government across the Commonwealth. The Lord Provost of Glasgow City Council recently hosted a CLGF pre-Games event to celebrate the Games and the benefits that such sporting events can bring to cities and the community as part of the 2014 Year of Developmental Local Government, which has been endorsed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government at their meeting in 2013.