Districts’ expertise must be embraced if Hunt’s growth plan is to be optimised
Jeremy Hunt’s Budget has the potential to empower local places to drive growth if the Government embraces the unique power of district councils – as the most local principal tier of local government – to deliver prosperity and wellbeing.
That is the view of the District Councils’ Network after the Chancellor announced plans in his Budget speech to sign more devolution deals, move the functions of Local Enterprise Partnerships into local government and expand the local retention of business rates.
However, the DCN has warned that the most positive impacts of such devolution will only be truly realised if power is devolved closest to local communities and not to more remote bodies.
Across much of England, it is district councils which are the pillar of democracy and the source of regeneration expertise closest to local communities, local businesses and their hard-working employees. District councils have the greatest convening power, pulling together local businesses, schools and other public services, often on a travel-to-work footprint.
The DCN welcomes the extra funding for district councils to drive growth and jobs in much of the country, by offering £400m to new Levelling Up Partnerships, which will be set up in places including Hastings, Tendring, Torridge and Bassetlaw. However, DCN urges ministers to hold true on their promise to simplify such funding pots to make them less onerous for councils to apply for, with competitive bidding reduced or, ideally, eliminated.
DCN welcomes the announcement that support for households with their energy bills is to be extended for an additional three months. District councils’ work with those who are feeling the worst impact of the rising cost of living demonstrates how many people are struggling right now.
We have also previously welcomed the extra £63m for public leisure centres with pools which have a huge impact on supporting health and wellbeing, but have sometimes faced closure as a result of rising bills.
Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen, chairman of the District Councils Network, said: “Many of the Chancellor’s measures offer the potential to help councils to drive growth in their communities, but in much of England this will only happen if the Government embraces the unique power of district councils – as the most local principal tier of local government – to deliver prosperity and wellbeing.
“Devolution deals work best when district councils are full constituent members, and Local Enterprise Partnerships’ powers are best localised by placing them with the tier of local democracy which works closest with businesses and understands its local communities best.
“We remind Jeremy Hunt that multi-year financial settlements should not just be the preserve of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands – the universal services provided by district councils, which have a huge impact on health and wellbeing, are reeling from financial uncertainty and could be better supported with similar financial stability.
“District councils – as the housing and homelessness prevention authorities – are working flat-out to help those most feeling the pinch from the rising cost of living. We therefore welcome the news that the Government is extending support on energy bills for an additional three months.”