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Future Forum Reflections

by Greg Hayes


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The recent MJ Future Forum provided a valuable platform for senior officers to grapple with the critical issues facing local authorities. The off-the-record discussions fostered a genuine sense of understanding, empathy, and a spirit of collaboration, all essential for navigating these challenging times.

Many of the raised issues amplified the ever-expanding array of competing priorities, the relentless depletion of resources, and the pressure to adjust to megatrends such as climate crisis and demographic shifts. The Forum provided a deeper understanding of their pressing nature. It was often difficult not to feel disheartened. Swiftly following Panorama’s ‘Councils in Crisis’ episode, there was no hiding from the broken funding system. We heard about a declining relationship between the NHS and local government, where collaboration had gone backwards. The housing crisis was characterised as a systemic failure, with no solutions forthcoming from developers or housing associations. Poor energy planning was shown to be holding back economic growth and attempts to decarbonise.

Yet, amidst all this doom and gloom, the upcoming general election presents an opportunity for a reset. Keir Starmer’s cautioned us that he has no magic money tree to waggle and that the road to rebuilding local government is long. The reality is that any new government will need to address local government funding urgently. The current disconnect between central government expectations and the resources provided to councils is simply unsustainable. Labour's promise of longer-term, multi-year settlements will clearly be welcomed. Such predictability will allow councils to plan strategically and help tackle some of the issues we heard about at the forum.

Devolution features as part of Labour’s plan to tackle inequality with housing, planning, transport, energy support, skills, and employment—all powers earmarked for mayors. We’re one of Europe’s most centralised countries, and devolution to date has been uneven and mixed in success. A reset opportunity must be grabbed here to empower place-based leadership and better coordination between central and local governments.

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