Localis manifesto analysis puts critical spotlight on council capacity and planning issues

Localis, the independent think-tank of place, has today published an incisive analysis of the election manifestos from the Labour and Conservative parties, spotlighting the implications for local government a week before the general election.

Entitled, ‘Betting the house: local policy challenges and the 2024 general election’ the study underscores the importance of local authorities in tackling the immediate challenges facing the country, including improving public services within stringent fiscal constraints and fostering economic growth.

The critical examination of the Conservative and Labour party manifesto identifies three key policy challenges that local government must address in the next parliament:

Planning: Current planning policies hinder housebuilding, causing a significant lag in supply relative to demand. Reforming and rebalancing the planning system will be critical for both social and economic reasons.

Public sector contracts: Although there has been a shift towards recognizing the strategic potential of procurement, systemic issues like reduced capacity and restrictive bureaucracy persist. Enabling more proactivity in commercial contracting will be crucial for local growth.

Capacity: Austerity has severely reduced the capacity of local authorities, especially in non-core service areas. Without addressing these capacity gaps, local authorities will struggle to innovate in public contracting, reform governance, and improve service delivery.

Key Findings on Planning and Housebuilding Policies:

Labour’s manifesto emphasizes a regional, strategic approach to planning, leveraging mayoral combined authorities for transformation with better resources and powers. Labour is committed to appointing additional planning officers and integrating AI for efficiency. They propose releasing some Greenbelt land for development under strict guidelines.

Conservative pledges focus on urban development and the use of the Infrastructure Levy to support local infrastructure and affordable housing. The manifesto highlights the need for partnership across public, private, and community sectors for regeneration projects but lacks detail on strategic planning.

Finance and Capacity of Local Planning:

 The Labour manifesto aims to address the capacity gap in local planning authorities with funding for additional officers and AI integration. They also propose stronger obligations for affordable housing and sustainability standards.

The Conservative manifesto introduces measures like the Infrastructure Levy but its proposals risk criticism for potentially burdening local authorities and affordable housing providers.

Procurement and Local Capacity:

Both manifestos are sparse on public contract and procurement details. The Conservative approach aligns with the upcoming Procurement Act 2023 but does little to tackle fundamental issues in local governance. Labour’s plans, while positive in rhetoric, lack specific proposals for local government contracting and capacity enhancement.

Localis chief executive, Jonathan Werran, said: “Both Conservative and Labour Party  manifestos reflect distinct approaches to governance and the role of local authorities but share a common neglect of the need of local government for immediate capacity uplift.

“Restoring local capacity will be crucial for public satisfaction and restoring effective governance and a capable local state in the next parliament.

“While Labour’s planning proposals are the more comprehensive and strategic in intent of the two, their success ultimately depends on overcoming long-standing and well understood implementation challenges.”

Please find a copy of the manifesto analysis |  “Betting the house: local policy challenges and the 2024 general election”