Types: Conference object
Subjects: Good Governance, local government, restructuring
This paper was presented to the European Urban Research Association (EURA) annual conference at the University of Warsaw, 21-24 June 2017
There are many problems when examining the concept of 'good governance'. There are numerous definitions, not all of which are applicable to local government. Often, there is a clear gap in perceptions between the practitioners in local government and the academic literature. There is a need, therefore, to pull together some of the different aspects of 'good governance'.
This is part of a study into what is needed to restructure local government in England. The overall study is about trying to develop a model by which any future restructuring of local government can be guided. One aspect of this model is 'good governance'.
A clear problem in trying to design such a model is the complexity of English local government. Wilson & Game have described it as "a dog's breakfast". There is no single uniform structure. There are both unitary and tiered authorities across England, some with elected mayors. Local authorities in London have to contend with the London Assembly - which is, effectively, a regional body.
When examining what is needed to develop 'good governance', the issue of structures is clearly important. In England there is a mix of tiered and unitary authorities, not all of which appears to make sense. For the most part, the larger urban conurbations are unitary authorities. Yet beyond the structures, there are so many other practicalities to consider. There is the internal management - and again there is no uniformity in England, even across unitary urban authorities - of each local authority. How is the 'politics' carried out? What are the leadership structures of a council? Added to this are the issues around scrutiny - what is scrutinised and how is scrutiny carried out? While there is central government legislation which compels local authorities to have some form of scrutiny arrangements, there is a lack of uniformity in English local government. Within this lack of uniformity are a range of forms of good practice and, arguably, not such good (or effective) practice. Finally, and again with a lack of uniformity across England, are the relationships with other bodies, through, for example, forms of public private partnerships, quangos, and other service delivery agents. What is the role of the council (and councillors) in these relationships? What should the role be? When there are contracts of twenty years or more in length, what becomes of the role of the local authority? In many respects, where councils no longer deliver any services, they have become what Nicholas Ridley (the former-Environment Secretary in the Margaret Thatcher Government of the late 1980s, responsible for local government) termed the 'enabling authority' i.e. they enable other bodies to provide the services and utilise a very light touch form of regulation.
This paper is not planning a single uniform system of 'good governance' for English local government. Such an objective is simply not achievable, noting the complexities in English local government. Rather, it is about raising the specific questions and issues which need to be addressed in any future restructuring of local government in England. In effect, it is developing some form of check list. Different councils have differing needs and requirements. Most obviously, urban centres have significantly different demands to non-urban. The emphasis in this paper will be upon the urban councils and the 'good governance' needed for their better management should any future restructuring take place.
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