Ann McGauran 01 September 2020

DCN: Bigger local government is ‘not better or cheaper’

Proposals for county unitary councils would be 122 times larger than the average council in Germany, a new report by the District Councils’ Network (DCN) warns today.

Any move to scrap districts in favour of creating a series of councils larger than any found across Europe would stop residents taking back control of their lives and risks alienating and leaving communities behind, the DCN said.

Power in Place: Devolution and districts driving our recovery urges the Government to resist calls to centralise local services - for planning, waste, high streets and more – into county unitary bodies in its forthcoming Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper.

The DCN, which represents 187 district councils in England, argues that local councils should be free to continue to focus on rebooting the economy, jobs and growth, rather than local government reorganisation.

If the proposals go ahead, the DCN says more councils and councillors would be concentrated in London than in the whole of the shire counties of England, conflicting with the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Launching the report, the DCN said districts have proved ‘by a long way to be the most effective level of government in tackling the COVID crisis both in terms of protecting and supporting vulnerable residents and in leading the way in business support and recovery’.

Chairman of the DCN Cllr John Fuller said: ‘The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated emphatically that local works best, and that bigger is rarely better. The Government’s own evidence points that way too. 

‘Whether you are talking about supporting shielded residents, housing rough sleepers, getting business grants to where they are needed as well as providing essential services to our communities, districts have delivered comprehensively and at speed, because we know our residents and businesses.

‘Any proposals to abolish districts and transfer services into new enormous councils would be absolute folly and uproot local government from local communities. The evidence is clear that bigger local government is not better or cheaper local government.

‘Devolution means decisions being taken at the level closest to the people affected by those decisions, not centralising them into administrations with populations way over a million people, and across geographies almost as large as Northern Ireland.

‘Right now we must be focused on achieving jobs and growth; using devolution to empower local responses around the towns and cities that people live their lives and businesses do their business.’

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