Downtown in Business campaign for a “northern revolution” to close the North South divide got a major boost this week. A leading think tank has recommended that cash strapped councils and public agencies across the North should come together to find new ways of delivering services in cooperation with the private sector.
The Smith Institute launched the report in Leeds amid claims that public spending cuts were on such a scale that senior officers and councillors could quit in despair. The report’s author, Michael Ward, warned town hall trade unions that they must cooperate in change of suffer the fate of the print unions who led a futile fight against changes in newspaper production in the 1980s.
Public sector cuts are leading to a major rethink about the very basis on which services are delivered. Roger Marsh, Northern Leader for Government and the Public Sector for Price Waterhouse Cooper in Leeds feels the current system of delivering council services is broken. He believes the Combined Authority model already operating in Greater Manchester could be copied in West Yorkshire.
The report paints a gloomy picture of the central government’s ability to sustain local government from a shrinking pool of tax revenue. It says that North Sea oil is in decline and countries are engaged in a race to the bottom in slashing Corporation Tax.
The report analyses the claim that northern councils are doing worse than their southern counterparts in the current settlement. They find that it is so and point out that the New Homes Bonus is benefiting southern councils that would have built new houses anyway.
Mr Ward called on councils to use technology to cut costs so they could concentrate on personal services for children and the old. John Pugh, the Lib Dem MP for Southport, said it was not a good time for council’s to be visionary. His authority, Sefton, was totally preoccupied with coping with the cuts.
Mr Ward ended with a rallying call for a Constitutional Convention for England to debate his proposals. Perhaps he will join Downtown’s Northern Revolution.