Jeremy Pembroke joins regions debate

WHEN it comes to local government, size matters. The three challenges for any government are:Accountability - is it close enough to the people?Scale - is it big enough to be cost effective?Deliverability - is it geared up to do the job?The 'one size fits all' solution does not work.

By Jeremy Pembroke


WHEN it comes to local government, size matters. The three challenges for any government are:

Accountability - is it close enough to the people?

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Scale - is it big enough to be cost effective?

Deliverability - is it geared up to do the job?

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The 'one size fits all' solution does not work. Each county and region is individual. That is why the North East regional government referendum was a huge failure.

Local government reorganisation may attract little interest in the real world, however the outcome will affect all our lives. The heart of the issue is 'what is right for local people?'

Speaking about the future of local government, David Miliband, the Minister of communities and local government, rightly said we should consider function, then form and then finance. The debate should not be about structures but about what services the people of Suffolk need and deserve.

Continuing with the current local government set up may not be an option. Structures need simplifying, rationalising and downsizing. I want to focus on the three main elements of local government and how they interrelate.

Accountability: democratic accountability is at the core of local government. Unlike government quangos, local government can speak up on local issues and on behalf of the people of Suffolk. This is all about representation and the issue is one of balancing the need for a local focus with a strategic approach and scale.

Scale: when it comes to support services such as Personnel, IT and Finance big is beautiful (within reason). Duplicating back office functions across local government is wasteful. However there is a limit, as 'nationalised' back office services suffer from their own problems. When commissioning, or buying in, services, again typically, the larger the contract the better the value for money.

Deliverability: this is about services that are tailored to individual need. The needs of people in one part of Suffolk are very different to those in other parts - one size does not fit all.

The three elements do not neatly fit into a single structure. The key question that needs answering is this - “what is the structure that will deliver the optimum solution for residents?” Mr Miliband has kicked off the debate. Our focus will be on ensuring that, whatever the outcome, the people of Suffolk should get what they rightly deserve - high quality services at a low cost and tailored to meet local needs.

Jeremy Pembroke is Leader of Suffolk County Council and represents Babergh's Cosford division

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