"The savagery of the cuts to local government under this Tory-led coalition has been devastating. Despite the fact that local government is the most efficient part of the public sector and despite the fact that the services it provides from social care to children's centres, libraries to youth clubs are so central to people's lives, it has borne the brunt of George Osborne's axe. But the blows have not been dealt out evenly. This government has chosen to cut council funding in the poorest areas far more than in the leafy shires - the ten most deprived local authorities have lost six times per head more than the ten least deprived local authorities. The next government must rebalance this unfairness as a matter of urgency and give the most deprived authorities a better deal. But with finances continuing to be tight, local government also needs to be freed up to do more of the things they're good at. Jobs, care and housing would be a good start:
From my time as a council leader I saw how chaotic and wasteful the current system to get people into employment is. Government departments, government agencies, private companies and private training providers all have a role to play in providing training, skills and reducing unemployment. Barely 20 per cent of public spending in this area is under local control, yet local and regional provision is much more effective. The next government should devolve the budgets and responsibilities of big failing national employment programmes like A4E to local or regional level, so that local authorities who know the local labour market, know what skills are needed and what demand is anticipated play a key role in providing careers advice and getting people into work. Instead of pouring money into the pockets of big, failing private sector contractors it would go into effective, proven initiatives. That means more chance of people getting into work because they have the right skills and less money wasted.
One of the things I'm most proud of from my time as Leader of Islington Council was working to make sure our home carers received the living wage. It's a difficult area, notoriously low-paid with contracts awarded far too often on cost not quality. 15 minute visits, poverty wages and a high turnover of staff do not give our vulnerable elderly and disabled people the dignity and care they deserve. Public procurement can and should be key to progressive positive change. We showed in Islington how we can use contracts to demand the living wage and more apprenticeships. We also need to see a much greater alignment of local authority and NHS budgets through Health & Wellbeing Boards with basic standards set along the lines of Unison's Ethical Care Charter.
Finally, we desperately need more genuinely affordable housing. Private rent rises and sky-high house prices are making it harder and harder for most ordinary people to get their own home. We can't continue like this Local authorities know how to build and they know the houses their area needs. During my time in Islington we carried out our biggest affordable house building programme for 30 years, but with more freedom we could have done so much more. I'd like to see a deal from the Treasury on a bigger role for local authorities - lifting the cap on the amount they can borrow with the debt serviced by the income from planned rents. In parts of the country where housing is less of an issue, then a devolution of transport services - and the funding that goes with it - so that other areas can benefit from the London-style powers to manage bus and train services that we already enjoy."