The Conservative leadership believe in localism but they clearly also believe in some nudging towards Conservative Councils to do more to reduce spending and thus leave room for Council Tax cuts. After David Cameron's plea reported this morning comes the same message from Shadow Business Secretary Ken Clarke.
In a foreward to a paper on how Conservative Councils are seeking to help their residents cope with the recession, Clarke writes:
I believe it is our duty, parliamentarians and councillors alike, to apply firm financial discipline. This means knowing your costs, ensuring you are getting best value for money on all your contracts (whether these be services orientated or such services as energy and transport) and making sure bureaucracy is lean. It also means focusing on what you have been elected to do and not indulging in whimsical schemes of little public value.
These should sound obvious points but they demand personal energy, vigilance and attention to detail. To really know your true costs you must challenge assumptions and be brave enough to strip out budgets of anything unrelated to your essential role of creating the best environment for people to live in. Ask awkward questions about the expenditure not related to your priorities. The use of consultants, or the unexplained use of a contractor for a job which could be done more cheaply and efficiently in-house (or vice versa.) Query whether service delivery could be achieved more cost effectively by alternate means and demand answers where obfuscation is hindering simple changes.