Local elections analysis: Parties need to listen locally

From Whitehall to Town Halls, writes Rosie Lockwood

More needs to be done.

The people are heading out of the country in different parts of the country this week at a time when our democracy and economy are under severe strain, and our scandalous regional inequalities are widening.

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Wages and benefits are not keeping up with this spiraling cost of living. This is due to regional divides, such as inequalities. Here in the North, around 22% of jobs are accelerating in real-life wage and in-work profits. As a result, 3.5 million northerners are trapped in wealth.

National government inaction to support people who need it most, one appalling sleaze story after another, and a little to show for the local places that the upland agenda will likely have left people feeling despondent. This is the context of these elections.

So reports of low turnouts across England are unsurprising. When people participate they feel they are capable and it is worth their time to do so.

Nevertheless, today’s mixed bag of results and show clear geographical differences in voting preferences, while demonstrating (while focusing on national issues alone) that people care about what’s happening in their local area.

Local leadership matters. Unlike policymakers in Whitehall, local leaders live in and understand their areas. Where they are empowered with the right policy levers and resources, evidence shows that they are more likely to make progressive investment decisions, grow their local economies, lead to better public services and help reduce regional inequalities.

People and institutions have a big challenge ahead today. They must do what they can with their own resources, and they will need to secure more.

But for this to happen, the central government has to change. Its 2021 Allocation of Funding represents an investment of just £ 32 per person in the North, compared to a £ 413 per person drop in annual council service spending over the last decade.

What we’ve seen so far is going to cut it. Westminster’s austerity, which was imposed on local government and had a disproportionate impact on the North, has had to be reversed and leveled by a significant shift in power and resources from Whitehall to Town Halls. The electorate will never feel like leveraging up from any substance this does not happen.

Today, commentators are talking about the impact of the election on the so-called ‘red wall’, a soundbite wrongly used to generalize the North, which is based on parliamentary, not local election boundaries.

But what they should really take from this is that all parties need their own right in local places to deliver.

Northern voters have shown that they know that conservatives’ promises on leveraging up are unrealized but that they are not a viable alternative. Regional inequality in action for The Electorate’s patience, and a better kind of politics, will not last forever.

We know that it’s possible to design a just and fair economy and deliver a good life for everyone, everywhere in the country. They’ll deliver it to political parties for the time being.

Rosie Lockwood is head of advocacy at IPPR North. She tweets @Rosie_Lockwood.

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