What’s next for Local Government in 2019?

We are already well into 2019, Tim Preston our Account Director for Local Government Strategy shares his personal thoughts on a few key issues that are facing local government this year and what it means for those shaping and influencing policy and delivery.

Local government

Councils facing major budget problems  

Over the last few months, several local authorities have announced that they are facing major financial difficulties.  In response, we are seeing a number of similar responses from those involved in trying to re-balance the books: 

  • Retrenchment to core statutory obligations 
  • Initiatives that will leverage quick and significant efficiency savings
  • Investment becomes more focused  on short term priorities to deliver the best possible benefits to communities
  • Higher risk projects become less attractive and are often abandoned or scaled down 

In implementing these measures, decision makers will be looking for advisors that can work with them to provide a greater  focus on openness, scrutiny and transparency as they justify the decisions they take to their communities and stakeholders.  Consultants will need strong engagement skills to develop and communicate the messages behind these difficult spending decisions. 

Emissions, health and wellbeing 

One of the early Government policy announcements of 2019 is the publication of the Clean Air Strategy.  The introduction of new emission targets for fine particles as recommended by the World Health Organisation will have a significant impact on the way we live, from the introduction of Low Emission Zones in some of the most polluted urban areas, to the way we use our homes which will include the phasing out of coal and oil heating.  

New communities and neighbourhoods will need to respond to the Clean Air Strategy through the design of homes and the transport infrastructure solutions that support them. Local Government will be looking for more powers and resources to deliver the objectives of the strategy and allow them to enforce against the most significant polluters. 

The emissions agenda is a further part of a general policy move towards preventative health initiatives through the work of the Health and Wellbeing Boards.  While the focus of the boards will vary across the Country, the expectation is that they will look to focus more energy on practical preventative measures as part of their programmes.  As a result, we expect to see more recognition of this issue on all aspects of placemaking. 

A greater profile for intermediate housing 

There is increasing evidence that more intermediate rental housing will be required for those who don’t quality for social housing yet struggle to afford market rents or home-ownership in certain parts of the Country.  In recent years, intermediate housing products have tended to be based around shared ownership, but economic pressures have led to questions as to whether these are genuinely affordable and provide a realistic avenue for many people to purchase. 

Providing tenants with more choice in the nature of affordable intermediate rental products, and flexibility in tenure, is an area where we are starting to see different local government initiatives emerge in planning policy, housing development programmes and housing strategy. 

A more flexible affordable rented sector needs to consider: 

  • Genuine tenure of choice
  • More focus on the needs of the tenant
  • Ease of access and flexibility in the tenancies available
  • Better links to housing and financial advice

Integrating these themes into intermediate rental products will start to address need over the longer term.

More intervention in the high street 

There is no one size fits all solution to the challenges facing retailing in our town and cities.  Structural economic forces are occurring rapidly and have a significant impact on local communities. In response, local government policy makers have a choice of tools to apply and we expect to see more active intervention which will include: 

  • Asset acquisitions to take control and introduce alternative uses for vacant buildings 
  • Introduction of more residential use in town centres, driving footfall and economic activity, particularly in the evening
  • Meanwhile uses, providing short term activities and the opportunities for start-up businesses
  • More innovative  rental models such as social retail rents, but with commitments to wider objectives such as community supply chains, local employment and profit sharing
  • Creating high quality public open space 
  • Introducing more events and activities designed to introduce spend and footfall

The launch of the £675m Future High Streets Fund by the Government will provide much needed      financial stimulus for intervention.  The prospectus themes suggest that many of the views expressed above will be included in the proposals that develop later in the year.  They include: 

  • Investment in physical infrastructure  
  • Acquisition and assembly of land 
  • Improvements to transport access, traffic flow and circulation 
  • Supporting change of use including (where appropriate), housing delivery and densification 
  • Supporting adaptation of the high street in response to changing technology 

With up to £25m available per place, the challenge will be levering other investment to complement this spend and deliver a wider range of outcomes. 

Tim Preston

Account Director Ask me a question