District Councils Network responds to Levelling Up White Paper
Commenting on the Government’s recently published Levelling Up White Paper, Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen, Chair of the District Councils Network said:
“District councils are eager to be in the vanguard of levelling up because we’re already doing it. Our proximity to 100% of residents and businesses in our communities, our local convening power and our proven track record of delivery on the ground make us ideally placed to do that in market towns, cathedral cities, coastal communities and rural areas across England. Our 183 member councils are the biggest and most trusted part of local government.
“Overall, we feel the Levelling Up White Paper is a missed opportunity to integrate the unique value of district councils into an ambitious plan for the future of our country.
“We believe devolution can play a positive role in giving local areas the powers they need to tackle economic and social inequality. We’re pleased that the Government has confirmed there will be no top-down reorganisation of local government. But the proposals for County Deals have really missed a trick and have the potential to cause unnecessary tension. They don’t treat districts as equal partners and recognise the indispensable part we must have in making a success of devolution. Our member councils in the nine pathfinder areas will seek to work constructively with their local partners to develop the best possible deals for the residents and businesses they serve. But we’re calling on the Government for stronger recognition of the valuable role districts can play and a formal duty for local partners to collaborate with district councils in all pathfinder areas.
“We’re sceptical about how the Government proposes to encourage the expansion of town and parish councils and other community groups. Town and parish councils play an important role at the hyper local level, however their capacity is variable and not all areas have parishes. We believe community empowerment can help deliver better local services. What matters is how this is done. Despite good intentions, we’re concerned that this will cause confusion, disrupt local relationships that work well and clog up local systems, such as housing and planning. It also has the potential to add to the cost of local government at the expense of spending money on the local services our residents need. It’s essential that all parts of local government are given a genuine chance to shape the policy design here.
“The White Paper should have gone further in some places. There’s little or no new funding for councils to deliver net zero. Local government can reduce national emissions by 30% in the race to zero carbon. This could easily be integrated into the levelling up agenda with the right funding and incentives. The White Paper also underpays the role district councils – in conjunction with the private sector – could have in regenerating town centres, driving local economic growth and restoring local pride.
“There are things to welcome. It’s good that the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund will give local places the freedom and long-term certainty to invest in regeneration projects that work for their communities. The Government has recognised the benefit of allocating a substantial proportion of the funding to district councils. This is a testament to our record in delivering regeneration funding, supporting local businesses and driving local economic growth.”