England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

The future accountability of councils?

The recent spat between the LGA and CLG on bin collections could be an indication of things to come. Eric Pickles’ dislike of fortnightly bin collections is well known and therefore it is not surprising that the first time waste collections were disrupted would be taken as an opportunity to remind councils of  his position. However, this is a localist Secretary of State and he is not fond of guidance or unnecessary rules. Therefore the tactics deployed might reveal more about the future accountability of councils than the future of waste management in England.

The first tactic was in timing, this was a pre-emptive strike, no national press and barely any local press had picked up waste collection as a problem. The second tactic was to apportion blame to councils and their working practices. I was in Leeds over Christmas, waste collections had been missed but my hosts and their neighbours recognised that snow and sheet ice were the cause not necessarily council practices. The third tactic was to use vaguely threatening language hence Bob Neill’s statement that to ignore him would be not be ‘wise’. Fourthly, is a potential sanction, the reluctant issuance of guidance.

In the absence of an audit commission, the seeming disinterest of the armchair auditors and fewer people in CLG to gather evidence and write guidance could these tactics be the future of local government accountability? Eric Pickles has declared an interest in ‘guided localism’ perhaps this should be ‘nudged localism’. You are free to do whatever you want but if the government don’t like it be prepared to defend yourself at any time on any topic. You can continue to swim against the current of government preference but wouldn’t it just be easier to fall into line and receive supportive letters from government rather than broadsides?