How has Local Government changed the way it works?
Local authorities now provide less services themselves and instead are responsible for managing contracts to run services by the private sector and sometimes by voluntary organisations. Services may be run more cheaply but there is a loss of control by elected councillors and a reduction in local accountability.
With less direct control over services such as housing and education, local government plays a broader coordinating role than in the past bringing together different organisations and interests to ensure that changes happen. This has been called local ‘governance’ rather than local government. For example, tackling excessive drinking at night in town centres will require bringing together the police, the pubs and clubs, the local hospital and using the local authorities powers to grant licences.
Changing public attitudes have affected local government. People expect to be consulted and involved and so local authorities have tried to be more open about how decisions are taken. People may also see themselves more as consumers and, just as they will not accept poor standards in the goods that they buy in the shops, they will expect high standards in local services. In both these areas, local government has made more use of information technology to provide information and interact with the public.
The Coalition Government has promoted a Localism agenda with new legislation. Local groups or town and parish councils can now bid to run services, for example take over a local library, or acquire public buildings that are no longer needed or draw up their own local development plan. Local authorities have had to learn to work at the neighbourhood level and help these groups.