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BETTING THE HOUSELOCAL POLICY CHALLENGES AND THE 2024 GENERAL ELECTION

While not programmes for government in their own right, manifestos act as an indicator of how government will be used as a vehicle and what direction it will be travelling in. For local government, the party manifestos present an insight into the position the sector will occupy in the policy agenda of the next Parliament, as well as where it fits into the visions of prosperity being sold to voters.


Betting the House presents a locally-focused analysis of the election manifestos of the two parties most likely to from a government in 2024, Labour and the Conservatives. However the election turns out, the incoming government must reckon with a public which demands improvement in the quality of public services in the context of tight fiscal constraints and a pressing need for economic growth to be delivered. Local government has the potential to play a crucial role in overcoming the immediate challenges and charting a course to national prosperity, if an enabling policy and funding framework is put in place.


KEY POINTS


AVOIDING THE CAPACITY ISSUE


The party manifestos of the Conservative and Labour parties reveal two approaches to government and the role of the local state, bound by a shared avoidance of the crucial issue of immediate capacity uplift. Restoring local capacity to deliver will be crucial to raising public satisfaction with government at all levels, and a proper assessment must be made before the next spending review. Similarly, the role of local contracting in social prosperity should be given more serious weight in the future of local economic development than it has been afforded in these manifestos.


PLANNING AND HOUSEBUILDING POLICIES


On issues of planning and development – so crucial to a future of sustainable prosperity – the Labour Party certainly offers a more comprehensive and convincing vision of delivery. Yet it cannot be ignored that Labour would be far from the first party to come into office with a plan to overhaul the system and develop new homes at pace. In fact, they would be the second party to do so since 2019, and the comparisons between the Conservative offer on housebuilding in that election and their current offer could prove instructive should Labour gain office, as the current polling strongly suggests.


Labour’s manifesto emphasizes a regional, strategic approach to planning, leveraging mayoral combined authorities for transformation with better resources and powers. Labour is committed to appointing additional planning officers and integrating AI for efficiency. They propose releasing some green belt land for development under strict guidelines. The Labour manifesto aims to address the capacity gap in local planning authorities with funding for additional officers and AI integration. They also propose stronger obligations for affordable housing and sustainability standards. 


Conservative pledges focus on urban development and the use of the local levies to support local infrastructure and affordable housing. The manifesto highlights the need for partnership across public, private, and community sectors for regeneration projects but lacks detail on strategic planning. The Conservative manifesto introduces measures like reform of the Infrastructure Levy but its proposals risk criticism for potentially burdening local authorities and affordable housing providers. 


PROCUREMENT AND LOCAL CAPACITY

Despite previous rhetoric and public announcements, the Labour Party manifesto is noticeably bare in terms of public contract and procurement details, despite previous announcements around more transparent contract tracking and increased social value enforcement. To see such public contract and procurement provisions seemingly left out of the manifesto – despite positive policy messaging elsewhere – is concerning, although the benefit of the doubt would be that Labour is committed to the upcoming Procurement Act and is leaving the technicalities of how the system will continue to be reformed for after the election.


The Conservative manifesto also mentions public contracts sparingly, with local government considerations notably absent. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see the Conservatives are committed to the more integrated and strategically inclined procurement system as outlined by the upcoming Procurement Act 2023. Beyond this, however, measures laid out around the SME procurement do little to tackle the fundamental issues of cost overruns, delays, and the overall lack of capacity for foresight and rigour in contract management by local and other public sector authorities.


Author: Jonathan Werran - Chief Executive - Localis (Thinktank)





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