Recently I’ve started to wonder if local authorities are becoming too punitive, or at least risk being perceived as such by residents.
The link below is a news item concerning a council which sent a Christmas card to its tenants which was felt to be insulting, saying “Don’t overindulge this Christmas. Pay your rent!”.
Of course there has always been a need for local law keeping and civil behaviour, dealing with a percentage of any population who, by degrees, behave anti-socially.
But I worry that, with local authorities on a long path of reducing resources and staffing levels, councils are taking on a residual role of punishment (parking, bins, etc) as well as collecting ever-higher charges (council tax, near-market rents, social care charges) and distributing less money (bedroom tax, benefits cap).
These trends leave little or maybe no space for the previous role of councils as an enabler, as a promoter of wellbeing and of improvement. The changes give local authority staff less experience in their working lives of engaging with people and communities in a positive and trusting manner.
And these trends mean councils will need to reinvent themselves if and when the better times return, but only if there is still some residual local support for the idea of local government – rather than just a new hostility to local enforcement.