Who stole the town hall? Latham’s book offers some clues

Former GLC and Croydon councillor DAVID WHITE reviews an important new book on local government which raises familiar concerns about control of our councils

Who really is in control at the Town Hall?

Local government today is not in a healthy state. Most local councillors have little power while at the same time there is a dangerous over-concentration of power in the hands of a few. Services are being cut and many council services are being outsourced and privatised.

Peter Latham’s excellent book Who Stole the Town Hall? The end of local government as we know it examines how the neoliberal agenda of recent governments, New Labour as well as Tory, has led to this sorry state of affairs.

Dr Latham is a sociologist who is based in Croydon, and is a delegate to Croydon Trades Union Council. His previous works include a an important thesis on Theories of the Labour Movement in the 1970s. From 1999 to 2006 he was Treasurer and then Secretary of the Labour Campaign for Open Local Government.

His provocative new book begins with a critique of the Local Government Act 2000. Before this Act, most councils had a system of committees, which made decisions or reported to full council. Almost all councillors were members of one or more of the committees. The 2000 Act changed things so that most areas now have a mayor and cabinet or a leader and cabinet. Croydon has the latter.

One result of the changes is that the council mayor or leader is elected or appointed for a fixed period and cannot easily be removed. He or she appoints cabinet members (who receive substantial allowances – more than £44,000 a year in Croydon), which gives the mayor or leader enormous powers of patronage. Backbench councillors are marginalised, as they have virtually no say over policy.

Council meetings are largely a waste of time, as decisions have already been made by the leader or the cabinet.

Latham also analyses the “outsourcing”, or privatisation of many council services. This move is designed to reduce the public sector of the economy and increase the profits of private companies (many of whom also happen to be donors to the Conservative Party).

As Latham points out, the system of directly elected mayors and “strong leaders” is “the optimal internal management arrangement for privatised local government services”.

The book also covers many other areas.

These include cuts to local government finance by recent governments, the unsuccessful and undemocratic system of Police and Crime Commissioners and the need for reform of the system of raising local government finance.

There is a case study of Croydon and the way in which commercial interests play a pivotal role in deciding policy in the borough, in an undemocratic and often secretive way.

Latham’s book is authoritative but at the same time readable. He backs up his arguments at every stage with statistics, quotations and other evidence.

This book is essential reading for anyone interested in local democracy and the provision of local services. In particular anyone thinking of standing as a local councillor should read it from cover to cover.

  • Who stole the town hall? The end of local government as we know it by Peter Latham: order your copy from the author and get a special 50% Inside Croydon discount. Email drpalatham@hotmail.com

  • Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
  • Inside Croydon is the borough’s only independent news source, and still based in the heart of Croydon
  • From April to July 2017, we averaged 33,000 page views every week
  • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or a local event to publicise, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2018 council elections, Croydon Council, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Who stole the town hall? Latham’s book offers some clues

  1. 1984 was a few years ago but you know what? What goes round comes round and it looks like we are in for a long dose of Big Brother local politics once more.

  2. Very few Councl jobs require the holder to have a particular qualification either by law or in the person specification. The same is certainly true of Councillors who often have no experience in the portfolio to which they are appointed. This is in contrast to central governments and societies ever increasing quest for better exam results.

    The risk here is obvious and you cannot rely on contractors/consultants to provide the right advice if you are not at a certain level of expertise yourself in order to understand their advice.

    I prefer my solicitor, doctor, dentist, optician, pilot etc to have appropriate qualifications and there is no substitute for independently verified standards of attainment tested by exam, with follow up continuing professional development.

Leave a Reply