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‘You can't play politics with people's jobs and people's services’: Localism and the politics of local government finance


  • Stuart Wilks-Heeg



Despite growing cross-party support for the principles of localism, the coalition's radical devolution agenda looks set to provoke a level of tension in central–local relations not seen since the 1980s. This article argues that the central cause of this friction, the front-loading of cuts in the local government financial settlement for 2011–2013, must be understood as the centrepiece of theConservatives’ agenda for local government reform. It is argued that, as with the introduction of the poll tax after 1987, the Conservatives have adopted a high-risk political strategy that will require the government to persuade voters that cuts in services arise from the failings of local councils. Evidence from opinion polls in the first half of 2011 suggests that the public is yet to be convinced that the blame lies with local government, but that they remain open to persuasion. However, a regionalized analysis of projected public sector job loss and voting patterns at the 2011 English local elections suggests that voters look set to blame central government in the areas where the cuts will hit hardest. If future local elections repeat this pattern, the limitations of the political strategy behind the localism agenda will become highly apparent.

Suggested Citation

  • Stuart Wilks-Heeg, 2011. "‘You can't play politics with people's jobs and people's services’: Localism and the politics of local government finance," Local Economy, London South Bank University, vol. 26(8), pages 635-651, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:loceco:v:26:y:2011:i:8:p:635-651

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