Looking back at 50 years of service

Having served as a councillor at Reading Borough Council uninterrupted since 1973, Councillor Tony Page was elected Mayor of Reading in May 2023 and will now serve as Mayor for a period of 12 months until May 2024. He recounts some of the big moments from the last 50 years.

Having served as a councillor at Reading Borough Council uninterrupted since 1973, Councillor Tony Page was elected Mayor of Reading in May 2023 and will now serve as Mayor for a period of 12 months until May 2024. He recounts some of the big moments from the last 50 years.

I have now served as an elected borough councillor in Reading uninterrupted since June 1973. When I was first elected we were in an international oil crisis, with conflict in the Middle East and a highly unstable international situation, all of which seems very familiar and, sadly, little changed.
    
Whilst the international background may offer many similarities, the world of English local government has changed enormously. In those 50 years, we have seen galloping centralisation of powers in England, with local government hugely undermined, resulting in England now being one of the most centralised European states.
    
It need not be like this and, indeed, until the end of the 70s, councils had full control over the domestic and business rates they levied, without central interference or control. All was about to change!

1980s & 90s

We entered the early 1980s with a new Government led by Margaret Thatcher, whose dislike of local government spawned measures that led us to the current pinnacle of centralised government. We had rate-capping controls; the abolition of a whole tier of six new metropolitan county councils plus the Greater London Council and bruising battles with authorities in Liverpool and Lambeth. Then in 1990, the introduction of the ‘community charge’, better known as the poll tax, lost Mrs Thatcher her premiership following major riots, and control over business rates was removed from local councils to the Treasury.
    
Michael Heseltine rushed in a new ‘temporary’ Council tax system based on banded property valuations (which have remained unchanged and highly regressive) and, throughout the period since the early 90s, the maximum percentage increase in council tax has been laid down each year by central government. This along with centralised business rates remains the greatest act of central control ever exercised by Governments over English local councils.

1997 and beyond

Labour and Tory Governments since 1997 have maintained the huge dominance of Whitehall, with new directly elected Mayors subject to the same restrictions. ‘Devolution deals’ to date offer no new financial independence or revenue raising powers which should be the real test of genuine devolution.
    
Notwithstanding the impact of grant cuts of over 40 per cent in real terms since 2010, English local government remains the most efficient part of the public sector. In fact during the recent pandemic, the ‘stars’ were local authorities who responded swiftly and effectively as partners, thereby being crucial to the vaccination roll-out, and wider health and financial support.

Looking to the future

I hope that the next Government will reinvigorate local government within a genuinely devolved structure. This should be based on a framework of unitary local government, with a regional tier (which could also nominate members to a streamlined and reformed upper house), thereby allowing government to focus on those issues that can only be dealt with at the national level. Financing this new structure needs to be made more equitable at local level, recognising the need for continuing central grants to less well-off councils, and permitting new and diverse sources of revenue. It just needs political will!

Event Diary

This year, Total Telecom’s Connected Britain is celebrating its 10th anniversary, marking a decade of networking, innovation, and collaboration. The conference is now the UK’s largest digital economy event, set to welcome over 7,500 delegates from the telecoms industry and beyond to discuss the hottest topics at ExCel London on September 11–12. 

DTX brings together creative minds and technology practitioners with the tools needed to drive change, enhance experiences and improve efficiencies across today’s organisations.

The countdown to the Environmental Services & Solutions Expo (ESS Expo) is on! As the UK’s largest environmental gathering, ESS Expo is set to take place on 11-12 September 2024 at the NEC, Birmingham.