Brexit prolongs austerity but Labour’s brilliant local leaders will help communities survive

First published on LabourList

The British public’s decision to pull out of the European Union has shaken our politics and the economy. In turn the implications on our public services will catch up. And they are likely to be huge.

Mark Carney’s injection of £250bn into the economy and George Osborne’s tax break to companies has blown the public finances. But this additional spending is not the end of austerity but the prolonging of austerity. Public services will have constrained budgets for another decade longer. Just when you thought it was not possible, local councils will face even deeper cuts from central government, and services on which so many rely will come under further pressure.

Thankfully Labour councils are better led than at any point in our history. They have experienced brutal cuts, often in-year. Their services have been transformed and some, not all, but some are operating better than ever. Good and hard-working people have lost their jobs, many have accepted pay restraint or a watering-down of conditions. These are not good things but the way local leadership has worked in partnership with the workforce to lessen the important of these Tory cuts is impressive. Other services are really struggling and councillors look at future budgets and worry how they will meet statutory requirements, let alone have the resources available for locally determined priorities. Until Labour nationally sorts itself out, and actually aims to get a majority in parliament, this is unlikely to change.

Tomorrow is the Progress Governing for Britain conference. All the speakers are Labour councillors and assembly members in Labour administrations governing their patch. They provide the blueprint, mapping a way out of Labour’s current predicament.

Most members of Parliament have barely seen the inside of a government department since 2010. A decade (or two) could have passed by the time Labour is next in office but our local government leaders are making executive decisions day in, day out.

It is their knowledge, expertise and know-how that Labour must draw on going forward. John McDonnell’s conference in May did not seem to have any Labour councillors along to speak. Yet it is local leaders and cabinet members for growth and infrastructure that are creating jobs with diminishing budgets and a requirement to not run deficits. Just a week before Nick Forbes, leader of the LGA Labour group and Newcastle council, was a keynote speaker on the opening plenary at Progress annual conference.

Alongside tomorrow’s conference, Haringey leader Claire Kober has guest-edited the pullout in the next edition of Progress magazine. Her local government colleagues give insightful comment and plenty of ideas about what to do to combat the housing crisis, the reform to business rates and the fallout from Brexit.

But the stars of tomorrow’s show will be the mayors. Joe Anderson, currently for Liverpool and standing for Merseyside, is the keynote speaker. The fact Osborne takes Anderson on trade missions to China is just one way his great leadership has been recognised by those who are not even his political friends. Marvin Rees, newly elected in Bristol, is mixed race, working class and doing some of the most exciting things happening in Labour at the moment. His inspiration to others currently has no bounds. But I urge you to judge for yourself. Tickets are still available.

Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets @RichardAngell

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