Goodbye 2022, hello 2023
What have we learnt from the past year? The most horrific lesson is that there is still a megalomaniac in control of a major political power in Europe, whose personal commitment to regaining lost geographical influence can bring death and destruction to a whole nation and create a far-reaching economic crisis.
The few positives from the war in Ukraine are that democratic nations came together to resist the impositions of a new fascism, and local government in those nations delivered support for the Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict.
At home, it has been a year of unprecedented disruption. As well as the death of the only monarch most of us had known, we’ve had three prime ministers, four chancellors of the exchequer and four secretaries of state for levelling up, housing and communities, although two of them were Michael Gove.
All the signs are that 2023 will see continuing political, social and economic disruption, both home and abroad. There is no end in sight for the war in Ukraine and few signs of national politics settling down as the cost of living bites, inflation stays high, and nurses, ambulance crews, rail workers and postal workers all go on strike.
Refugees and asylum seekers
This week the government responded to the calls for more funds to support the Ukrainian refugee crisis by increasing the monthly allowance for ‘sponsors’ who are providing accommodation from £350 per month to £500 from January. At the same time, however, the government has reduced the funding available to local authorities from £10,500 to £5,900 for each refugee housed in their borough. Councils will, however, be invited to bid for monies from a total fund of £150m to support those Ukrainian refugees who have been made homeless, as their six month placements have come to an end.
This week also saw more deaths in the English channel from boat crossings and further announcements from government about its plans to deal with the problem. It has announced that it is securing accommodation at off-season holiday camps to house those awaiting the outcome of asylum claims (and reduce the £5.6m a day presently being spent on hotel accommodation, following the dispersion from the Manston detention centre) and is proposing further action to deter migrants from crossing the channel and actions to fast track the return of supposed economic migrants, predominantly from Albania.
We will be publishing a new briefing on refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in the new year.
Levelling Up and devolution
We began the year with the publication of the Levelling Up white paper and, in many ways, we end the year back where we started (albeit somewhat poorer). After some diversions over the summer, Levelling Up seems to be back as the government’s signature policy in relation to local government and we are starting to see new county devolution deals coming through – Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as Cornwall.
At LGIU our view remains that the devolution on offer is too miserly and too limited: not enough money, too few powers and insufficient vision for local government. We still believe, as we have argued since 2015, that asymmetric, deal-based devolution is the right approach and that devolution to a single template is devolution in name only.
Around the country we see councils driving forward real leadership of place. Whether they will be helped or hindered by the government’s levelling up agenda remains to be seen. Nonetheless, it is, for now, the only game in town and local government will have to play it.
A winter of discontent has begun with some one million workers going on strike across the NHS, the rail network and the post office. The best advice to avoid the disruption is not travel anywhere over the Christmas and New Year period and not get sick – reminiscent of Covid lockdown advice.
As the latest figures show that the inflation rate remains above 10%, this week has seen a number of authorities, including Leicestershire County Council, Derby City Council, Nottingham City Council, Bradford Council and Thurrock Council, warning of large scale redundancies, service cuts and council tax hikes as they prepare their budgets for 2023/24.
We published two financial briefings this week, drilling down into the detail of the Autumn Statement. One examined the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts and the other looked at the implications of the budget for local economic development and devolution.
Local heritage listing
In the week that Norfolk County Council announced that artefacts from the 17th century royal shipwreck, HMS Gloucester, will go on display at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery for the first time since the wreck was discovered in 2007, we published a new briefing on local heritage listing.
The briefing looks at the wider benefits that can follow from local heritage lists and includes case studies from Greater Manchester and Enfield, as well as highlighting work in Blackpool and Tower Hamlets.
Aah well, who cares about the World Cup? We have much more important things to deal with!