The Labour shadow cabinet is working with Lord Bob Kerslake on developing the priorities for its first Queen’s Speech, one of its senior members has said.
Shadow communities and local government secretary Andrew Gwynne told a Labour annual conference fringe meeting, organised by the Institute for Government, that the Shadow Cabinet is “working towards what that first Queen’s Speech will look like” with the former civil service chief.
Last year it was revealed that Kerslake, who was head of the civil service for two years from 2012 to 2014, was working with the party to develop “implementation manuals” for its policies.
The focus of the work is now identifying priorities for Labour’s programme of government, Gwynne told the conference event.
“We’re doing detailed work with help and oversight from Bob Kerslake to get us ready to go into departments and to say these are priorities that can be delivered on day one without legislation that are easy wins and these are the top priorities that require legislation and should be in our first Queen’s Speech.”
Gwynne, who chaired last year’s Labour general election campaign, said the shadow cabinet is also looking at where it can make progress on those areas which may have to wait for legislation until a potential Labour second term.
In his own communities brief – which has been separated from housing in Labour’s shadow cabinet – the most pressing priority is reform of council finance, he said.
“The most radical thing I want to do very early on in the Labour government – because if you don’t do it early it won’t happen – is radical reform of local government finance because the current system is broken.”
The MP for Denton and Reddish said that local government’s biggest spending item social care should no longer have to rely on local taxation. Instead he said that while councils should remain responsible for delivery of such services, they should be financed at a national level like health.
While a local income tax is likely to be ‘too bureaucratic and complex” to implement, other local services could be financed from a reformed business rates system or land value levy. “Some form of property tax would probably pay for all neighbourhood services like bins and grounds maintenance: all the things that Mrs Smith thinks she pays her council tax for,” he said.
Gwynne also revealed his concerns about the capacity of both local and central government to deliver the party’s radical policy platform.
“We need good, well-resourced local government to deliver that manifesto but so much capacity has been stripped out of local government and to be fair out of central government as well.”
He said research conducted by the party showed that nearly half (44%) of Labour’s 2017 general election policies rely wholly or partly on local government to be delivered.
As an example, Gwynne identified Labour’s pledge to deliver 1m new homes over the course of its first five-year term. He said this depended on local authority housing and planning departments, which had both been hollowed due to the long-standing policy of transferring the ownership of council homes and spending cuts.
“It is absolutely right that we look afresh at how we deliver our public services in the context of the ambitions that a Labour government would have.”