The Municipal Journal reports (£):
"The Local Government Association (LGA) has been dealt a severe blow to its finances in the Budget, with the news its funds will be slashed by £2.2m in less than two weeks' time. The Association’s top-slice cash – the money that comes directly from central government grant – was due to be cut by £1.5m in 2014-15. However, yesterday communities secretary Eric Pickles informed LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell of a more severe budget cut – of a further £2.2m – to come into force on 1 April this year."
What they don't tell their readers is that even with this cut there will still be, in the coming financial year of 2013/14, £25.5 million of our money handed over to the LGA from the Department for Communities and Local Government. Then as Council Taxpayers we get clobbered again by the cost of the hefty membership subs paid by each local authority (except Bromley.)
Under the Labour Government even more was wasted – around £35 million a year went to the LGA "family" of various offshoots that have now been consolidated.
But how can Mr Pickles possibly justify continuing any funding at all? £25 million is certainly a modest amount compared to the central Government grant to local authorities – which is about £24 billion. So 0.1% might not seem much – but it might make the difference between Council Tax being put up or not. It might make the difference between the grants budget to voluntary groups going up or down, or whether a library or children's centre stays open or closes.
Alternatively the DCLG budget could be reduced. £25 million is even more modest when set against the £1.15 trillion National Debt. George Osborne estimates the Government will borrow a further £108 billion in the coming financial year. But if Mr Pickles can think of nothing better to spend £25 million on, than the LGA, then shouldn't he give the money back to Mr Osborne?
Also it is rather worse than the LGA just wasting money. They are the shop stewards for local government. They champion group think and are the apologists for even the most despicable local government scandals – such as concerning Baby Peter. Whenever councils are challenged to do better, the LGA spokesmen take to the airwaves to insists that "everything possible" is already being done.
The irony is that the LGA Chairman Cllr Cockell is an excellent council leader in Kensington and Chelsea and played a leading part in the triborough revolution. It is an innovative council with the fourth lowest Council Tax in the land.
Cllr Cockell has been good humoured and level headed in responding to some unpleasant and sustained personal attacks locally. Apparently they are motivated mainly by some planning application row involving Holland Park School a few years ago. UKIP seem keen to hoover up the malcontents and target the Royal Borough in the elections next year.
Yet we have a perverse situation of two Cllr Cockells. We have Cllr Cockell, the LGA Chairman, claiming that councils are doing everything possible to innovate, improve services, and reduce costs. Then we have Cllr Cockell, the leader of Kensington and Chelsea, starkly highlighting the inertia and sluggishness that is pervasive in most other local authorities in comparison.
The LGA sometimes comes out with sensible proposals (which I am happy to acknowledge – for instance here and here.) Yet so do think tanks with a tiny fraction of the budget. But the LGA's dominant mission is as a voice for "the sector" – lobbying for more spending, making excuses for failure. Mr Pickles should stop pouring money into it.