Golden opportunities for local authorities

jackie-sadek-570pxIt must be hugely difficult and hugely exciting, in equal measure, to be in the leadership team of a local authority, whether at member level, or senior officer, in these times of turmoil. I don’t want to underestimate the challenges. It must be monumentally difficult, in a climate of still-austerity, to balance the books while fulfilling all your statutory obligations, emptying the bins, educating the sprogs, and grappling with the ever-burgeoning adult social care obligations.

But it has to be massively exciting too, in that every indication is that central government is trying very hard indeed to encourage entrepreneurial thinking and creativity in local authorities, particularly in response to the housing crisis. The old mantra “seize power” must be the order of the day, a theme rehearsed many times in this blog and now even more relevant than ever. Seek not permission, seek only forgiveness.

One resounding indication of all this – which hasn’t received anything like enough attention in my view – is that in the Autumn Statement the government announced it would consult on lending local authorities up to £1bn at a discounted rate to support infrastructure projects that are “high value for money”. Under the government’s proposal, local authorities would be able to borrow up to £1bn at a new Local Infrastructure Rate which would be set at gilts plus 60 basis points. Loans at the new rate would be available for three years, with a maximum term of 50 years. The Treasury consultation document sets out details on the proposed rate and seeks views on its potential impact. “The government welcomes responses from individuals, local authorities and representative bodies. All responses will be taken into account before the government decides whether to introduce this rate.”

Well! We may live in risk averse times, but this still looks like a golden opportunity to me. I would say: get your skates on, all of you “individuals, local authorities and representative bodies” out there trying to promote marginal stuff, whether in partnerships or otherwise. You know who you are. You have until 27 January to respond to HMG.

And… if you were to push me, and to ask me to choose a local authority leadership team to be part of, whether as an elected member or a senior officer, I would go for a unitary, in a part of the country commutable to London or Manchester, preferably with some major infrastructure investment on the horizon. And preferably with some land holding under ownership. And then I would be making hay, even if the sun isn’t shining.