With a Little Help From Our Friends
Author: Roger Gough |
What are the Priorities for Reform of the Adult Social Care System?
This report compares the English central-local balance with that in a number of European and Commonwealth countries. It examines issues ranging from finance and performance management to constitutional protection. In drawing on international experience, it shows how we got to our present situation and proposes measures to change it.
The report compares the position of English local government with that of its counterparts in the peer group from five different perspectives. In the first section, we will set out the constitutional protections and stability of local government in all seven countries. How clearly legally enshrined, for example, is the principle of subsidiarity? What status or protection in a written constitution does local government have in each country?
Secondly, we examine a particular form of protection for local government: its role on the national stage. To what degree do personnel overlap between national, regional (if applicable) and local politics? Is local government in some way represented in a second chamber? Does this have implications for a reformed Upper House in the UK? Are there other mechanisms for local government to influence legislation that affects it?
The third chapter, on the functions of local government, is relatively brief. Many of the same activities are carried out outside central government, although the peer group varies significantly in terms of the division of functions between subnational and purely local government. However, there is much greater divergence on financial issues, the subject of the fourth section. This addresses degrees of self-financing, the diversity and buoyancy of local revenue sources, and the balance between specific and general grants. Financial and constitutional issues combine on the issue of how local government can be protected from the imposition of unfunded burdens by central or subnational government. There is also great variety in the degree of central (or sometimes sub-national) supervision to which local authorities are subject in carrying out their role. This degree of intervention ? including both performance management and the scope for reorganisation ? is assessed in the fifth section. The usual caveat about comparative research applies: each country’s structures are a product of its history and institutional development, and so there is a need for caution in proposing that particular approaches can be adopted in England. In any case, there is no one feature that explains the relatively weak position of English local government: many of the pressures faced are strikingly similar across our peer group. It is in the cumulative effect of policymakers’ responses to these pressures in this country over time that the problem lies. Equally, the application of specific lessons from other countries can have the mutually reinforcing effect of enhancing the independence and effectiveness of English local government. The recommendations found in each chapter, and summarised in the concluding section, are designed to have that effect.