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  • Author or Editor: Colin Copus x
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The political party group, that coherent and disciplined body of councillors acting under the same political label within the council chamber, has long been an important influence within British local government. The party group brings form and substance to the activities of political colleagues; it is the private venue where councillors conduct representation, and make decisions, binding councillors in their public activities. This article examines the factors responsible for British councillors’ willingness to give the group their loyalty. It questions assumptions that group disciplinary mechanisms are the only reason why councillors act in a coherent fashion within the council chamber. Such arguments underestimate the ability of the party group to command the loyalty of its members and to exert a powerful influence over the processes of local representation.

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This article explores change in local democracy through analysis of the views of councillors in Britain. It is argued that within an overarching representative process, local democracy takes representative, participatory, market and network forms. Using data gathered by questionnaire and interview, the article analyses the views of councillors on these different forms. It finds that there are differences between councillors in their attitudes to the different versions of democracy, although in the main councillors demonstrate most support for a traditional local representative democratic system. The article concludes that councillors continue to act in a manner that is out of step with the thrust of reform.

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This chapter provides a context for the financial crisis, with in-depth political and economic insight into the events leading up to the recession and analyses of lessons that can be learnt. It gives an overview of the financial crisis and introduces some of the key themes emerging in the impact on the public sector. The current financial crisis in Britain began with a severe credit crunch in 2007, but had its roots in wider themes and issues, and is linked with historic, economic, and political decisions. It began with a predominant discourse of private debts – mostly in the banking sector. There are three key responses that a government can take to a financial crisis: ‘print’ money through a programme of quantitative easing; cut public spending; and raise income tax.

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There has been a gradual decline in the status of local government within the English governance framework as a result of central unwillingness to see it as either local or government. The centre has been aided in the depoliticising of local government by literature which minimises, ignores or seeks to remove any element of the political from local government. The paper reviews the process by which local government has been delocalised and depoliticised in the English context. It goes on to suggest a new settlement between the localities and the centre and the way in which a ‘localised polity’ may emerge.

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Local government in England is an outlier when it comes to size (Baldersheim and Rose 2010; Swianiewicz, 2010; Denters et al, 2014). Yet, amalgamations are far from finished in England and this chapter will explore how a policy narrative has been developed articulating the need for the ever-increasing size of English local government – a narrative which is shared between central and local government. While it is the centre that takes the formal decision about council mergers, the process is easier if some local government political elites share a policy narrative with the centre that extols the virtues of larger local government and fewer councils.

The council size debate reflects a series of assumptions about the purpose of local government (Bulpitt, 1983; Stewart, 1983 and 2003; Chandler, 2007; Copus et al, 2017) and the last wholesale reorganization in 1972 created councils which reflected those assumptions but not necessarily recognizable communities of place (John and Copus, 2011). Since the 1972 reorganization, subsequent governments have been shy of further massive territorial upheaval, preferring to cajole and convince local government into mergers through the creation of a policy narrative based on a folklore like belief in the efficacy of larger local government (Copus et al, 2017).

Drew et al (2019) point out the dearth of scholarly activity exploring the nature of the arguments that are employed by proponents and opponents of municipal mergers to convince the public of the rightness of their cause. They employ a rhetorical analysis to examine the efficacy of those arguments which display the ‘dreadful consequences’ that could occur from failure to amalgamate or from amalgamation.

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Reforming local government is a policy tool of central government when faced with local, national and international pressures for change and this is no more so than in times of political, social and economic crisis. The re-design of the institutional architecture of local political decision-making is therefore driven as much by the needs of the centre as by the needs of the localities, with a series of arguments for change propagated by the centre that reflects a set of central policy preferences. Once the shape, size, decision-making process, functions, purpose and tasks of local government are re-designed at the macro level, local political actors are the faced with opportunities for micro-level re-engineering of the systems bequeathed by the centre. The chapter employs the findings of separate research conducted among political leaders in England and Poland to explore how institutional design by central government, aimed at solving one set of policy problems, can energise further local re-design of local political institutions. Central government re-design of local politics can create a pattern of unfinished business which leads to further central interference in the architecture of local politics.

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