Thursday, April 30, 2009

Something for Gordon Brown to be proud of

The Times has an article praising Hackney Council for all of its improvements over the last few years, and contrasting it with the government nationally:

"Hackney could be a poster child for new Labour. In sharp contrast with the party's performance in national government - where public sector waste is endemic, taxes rising and Mr Brown's tax credits system is a byword for fraud and mismanagement - Hackney has shown that it is possible to improve public services while helping business to thrive, holding down taxes and providing genuine value for money.

What a tragedy that Mr Brown seems hell-bent in travelling in the opposite direction."

What a tragedy that the Deputy Business Editor of the Times doesn't understand about how local or national government works. The reason Hackney can hold down council tax, for example, is precisely because it (quite rightly) gets so much money from central government, from the £25 million in 2002 for the fresh start to the plethora of different funding streams in the Area Based Grant.

And Hackney's success is indeed credit to the local Labour mayor and councillors, but it is hardly unique. Across the nation, places that became notorious for crumbling infrastructure, high poverty, crime and decline in the 1980s and 1990s have been transformed, such as Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and many more.

At different times, each of these areas had some very poorly performing councils delivering terrible services. But in the UK it is the central government, not the local council, which has the most power over whether an area flourishes or not. And under Maggie Thatcher and John Major areas like Hackney and the northern cities were left to rot and under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown they have been revived.

It's no coincidence that all of these councils have got better since they started getting masses of extra funding from the Treasury, nor that the local economies and businesses with the highest number of people who have benefited from 'Mr Brown's tax credit system' have flourished as money has been redistributed to those who need it and will spend it. The real threat to these areas over the next few years are that big cuts in spending will undo the progress of the past ten years, not that a small handful of their residents have to pay slightly more income tax.

I guess probably every Times journalist has to fit in to their stories about how bad the modest extra taxes for the highest earners are, even if this means the overall article lacks any logical coherence. And it is too much to expect that they might mention anywhere outside of London. But the caricature of wasteful national Old Gordon Brown Labour versus efficient local New Labour Hackney is absurd. However badly things are going for him at the moment, the revival of Hackney and so many other areas will be one of Gordon Brown's greatest legacies.

4 Comments:

At 8:59 am , Blogger Robert said...

I've a Labour council the big talk is about whether we pay for a bag of rubbish to be collected or we pay higher tax. either way we are told we pay or they will make redundancies, yet my council tax has doubled, my area is like a shit house, and yet councilors tell us it Thatchers fault, yes believe it or not they still blame Thatcher,.

 
At 9:43 pm , Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

"Across the nation, places that became notorious for crumbling infrastructure, high poverty, crime and decline in the 1980s and 1990s have been transformed, such as Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and many more."

I'm from Leeds. There's a reason my city has seven Labour MPs.

 
At 8:22 am , Blogger Robert said...

Whats that postal voting.

 
At 10:48 am , OpenID alunephraim said...

Even during local government's interwar heyday, central government had a massive influence over local policies and local attitudes to different issues. Housing is one of the obvious ones; repeated changes to government policy over subsidies to council house construction had a massive impact at a local level just about everywhere. Local politics operates inside a national framework, not independently of it (whether that's a good thing or not is a different question) and that's even more the case now.

 

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