LGIU@40: Research Symposium

Watch the 2024 Research Symposium where senior leaders from across local government gathered virtually do discuss the three core themes – finance, participation and trust. Hear their input and ideas into our research programme for 2024 and her about our LGIU@40 manifesto,  For the Future of Local Government.

We’re empowering local government to face the future, moving from aspiration to practical action, ahead of the next general election.

Unsplash+ In collaboration with Andrej Lišakov

Watch the symposium:

Want to watch the symposium from start to finish? Just click play below. Interested in jumping to one speaker in particular? Scroll down for a summary of the discussions and video segments of the symposium, ready to watch.

The call for a New Covenant and LGIU's 2024 research plans - Dr Jonathan Carr-West

  • Jonathan introduced the LGIU@40 manifesto, the call for a new covenant between local and central government.
  • He raised the challenges local government faces: low productivity, regional inequality, sluggish growth, and overstretched public services.
  • These issues are due to the government’s treatment of councils as subordinate entities, excessive control from the centre, lack of strategic clarity, and declining trust in political institutions.
  • To help local government become more effective, the manifesto proposed short-term and long-term measures, including ending competitive bid funding, returning to multi-year financial settlements, implementing a needs-based funding mechanism, establishing a standing forum for regular consultation between central and local government, and implementing the trailblazer devolution deals.
  • Longer-term measures include incorporating subsidiarity as a principal of government, a more open devolution program, a review of local taxation, single budgets for all local services, the capacity for local government to design new taxes, and a senate of mayors and council leaders to shape central government policy.
  • Plans for the local democracy Research Centre, which includes investigating successful models of governance and extending research to Scotland, Ireland, and Australia.

Crisis in local-central government relations- Professor Patrick Diamond

  • Professor Patrick Diamond raised three linked crises local government is facing.
  • First, the financial crisis. The deepest financial crisis in the postwar period, local government has been driven to the edge by a combination of cuts to central government grants, rising service demands and – recently – inflationary pressure. The crisis has compounded existing structural issues across the UK, such as regional inequality.
  • Second, the governance crisis. Local government has shifted from a local representative system with relative autonomy to more of an arm of the central government reinforced with top-down performance management, where changes to local administration can be driven through without deliberation between central and local government.
  • Finally, the policy crisis. Patrick compared the 47% of LG spending that is on procurement to the 27% in central government, and raised the issues this causes with understanding the lines of responsibility and ensuring the quality of services.

Crisis in local government finances - Dr Peter Eckersley

  • Peter Eckersley spoke about the current crisis in local government finances
  • Local authorities in England have faced financial challenges due to central government funding cuts and increased service demands.
  • Reduction in central government funding to councils by 49% between 2012 and 2018 has impacted council services and councils’ financial resilience – as well as their back-office capacity to manage their financial strategies.
  • The limitations on local government funding raise existential questions about what local government is for, and what it can reasonably be expected to do.
  • Fair funding reform and a revaluation of council tax are needed to address the asymmetric austerity across the country.
  • Peter closed by talking about international lessons (from LGIU research) and the opportunities that may be presenting themselves about the future of local government when central government attention is no longer taken up by the questions of Covid or Brexit.

Declining trust and participation - Dr Hannah Bunting

  • Dr Hannah Bunting compared trust in local government and trust in central government.
  • In the UK, trust in central government is relatively low compared to countries like Denmark.
  • But trust in local government (around 50%) is much higher than trust in central government (around ⅓).
  • Hannah’s international research shows that trust in governments, parliaments and political parties is decreasing around the world, but trust in the civil service and police is increasing.
  • She suggests caution about assuming local governments will stay more trusted, and that as power is devolved and local governments come to look more like national governments, they may come to be seen in a more similar way by the public.
  • Finally, Hannah concluded that to maintain their trusted status, local governments should focus on cross-party collaboration and maintaining their focus on the local.

UK attitudes the work of councillors and role of local government - Keiran Pedley

  • Keiran Pedley from Ipsos focussed on the work of councillors and the role of local government.
  • He raised the general pessimism that the public has about public services.
  • And that many of the services that people most prioritise (social care, housing) are delivered by local government.
  • Polling demonstrates that people recognise the importance local councils have on the quality of life in their area and on the impact on their daily lives.
  • And that councils and councillors are more trusted than national politicians to work in the vested interests of people in their local area.
  • However, people do not feel well-informed about the work of their local councils.
  • A majority of people (64%) support local authorities being given more control over local decisions.

Response to the Covenant and solutions for local government participation - Dr Madeleine Pill FHEA

  • Dr Madeleine Pill spoke about the importance of participation, building on her recent LGIU blog on the concept of a plural local state.
  • She raised the issues found in Baltimore in a context of permanent austerity as an example of how city government can be marginalised, disempowered, and reliant on private and nonprofit organisations.
  • Madeleine encouraged us to think about the capacity of an active local state making use of the participation of local communities to build a plural local state – making use of local capacities and skills and enabling the state to be responsive and effective.

Response to the Covenant and the solutions for local government participation - Liz Richardson

  • Professor Liz Richardson gave her response to the manifesto, centring questions of trust, participation and devolution.
  • Liz brought up local governments’ key position as a broker between competing interests at a local and national level.
  • She also raised the important challenge of unlearning the lessons we know about how local government should work.

Response to the Covenant & solutions for a digital future for local government - Theo Blackwell MBE

  • Theo Blackwell emphasized the importance of data sharing within the local government sector to improve services, and unleashing the power of local data.
  • Sharing data between local authorities can be challenging but it can lead to improving public services, predicting vulnerabilities, and enhancing independent living.
  • There is a need for robust safeguards when sharing personal data and the potential of collaborating with the NHS and learning from open banking.
  • The aim of data sharing is to unlock data for creating new service and business models to transform services for citizens.

Wrapping it all up: How we can save local government so local government can save us