Tony Armstrong, Locality chief executive, looks at the key promises from the major political parties ahead of the General Election on 12 December 2019.

Amidst the day-to-day churn of campaigning, all the major parties have now published their 2019 General Election manifestos.

In this post I look at what they mean for Locality members. I’ll run through the key promises in the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and Brexit prospectuses.

There’s much to cheer – from a Locality perspective – but lots of work to be done in ensuring warm words lead to concrete, tangible outcomes.

The big picture

Public spending is back. For the past year or so, we’ve heard that ‘austerity is over’, with little action to back that up. Yet, both the Labour and Conservative manifestos show a clean break from the previous consensus.

This Resolution Foundation (RF) graph shows where the commitments made in their manifestos would take public spending as a percentage of GDP in comparison to historical levels of spending.

However, this is just the top line. Three things that also need to be considered are:

· whether this increased spending takes us back to pre-crash levels;

· how this plays out on a department by department basis;

· and whether this increased spending can meet future costs and demand for services.

Local government funding

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have looked at Conservative spending plans for local government. The IFS conclude that “unless councils’ productivity improves by more than has historically been the case, either further cutbacks to service provision would be likely, or funding would need to be topped up”.

The Labour Party have committed to £20 billion for day-to-day local government spending by 2023–24. This is a combination of increased funding for existing local government services and £7 billion for free personal care for the over-65s. However, despite these large increases, “the funding would not be sufficient to return services to their pre-2010 levels”.

Social security spending

Resolution Foundation analysis shows that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are proposing big increases in social security spending.

Their analysis shows that the Conservatives’ social security plan does not change the status quo. In effect, it will result in £3.8 billion of further cuts to working-age benefits.

However, some of the potential impacts are less clear-cut.

Labour have focused on scrapping Universal Credit, alongside other new proposals such as free broadband. The RF conclude that: “under this plan, large families, private renters and disabled people are the main beneficiaries.

“Many working-age families that fall outside these groups could still find themselves worse off under Labour compared to the UK’s pre-2015 social security system. This is especially true given Labour is leaving in place the effects of the benefits freeze.”

The Liberal Democrats’ social security offer is similar to Labour’s in its size and scope but is more progressive in that it results in “slightly larger gains for poorer households”.

Specific announcements and their relevance for Locality members

Here we look at some of the key announcements across the five manifestos and how they relate to Locality’s key policy calls:

· A £150 million Community Ownership Fund in the Conservative manifesto.

· The Conservative manifesto commits to using £500 million of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to “give disadvantaged people the skills they need to make a success of life”.

· The Labour manifesto commits to strengthen community wealth building. It will do this “by giving communities the powers and resources they need to keep public spending circulating in the local economy”.

· Labour will list pubs as Assets of Community Value.

· The Liberal Democrats make promises on community-led services. They say local people will be able to “take charge of aspects of their own local development through, for example, establishing local banks and community energy cooperatives”.

· Regional mutual banks are announced in the Green Party manifesto. They will “provide funding for start-up companies (particularly co-operatives, community interest companies and other non-profit businesses)”.

· An extension of the use of dormant funds to support civil society is announced in the Brexit Party ‘contract’.

How these announcements relate to Locality’s key policy calls

In Locality’s election manifesto, we laid out four policy proposals for the next government to unlock the power of community. There are traces of all four across the five manifestos. This provides us a good basis to engage with parties on the detail of their proposals and push them to go further.

  • A national £1bn Community Ownership Fund

The Conservatives’ commitment to a Community Ownership Fund is very welcome. Locality has called for such a fund to be created since our Places and Spaces report in 2016 (.pdf) and through our Save our Spaces campaign.

We do have concerns around the size of the fund if football clubs are included. In addition, it doesn’t include the full range of community ownership options we’d like. It omits Community Asset Transfer from its scope and instead focuses on Assets of Community Value.

Importantly, it doesn’t list vital community facilities such as community centres. However, the explicit support for community ownership is hugely encouraging.

We were also pleased to see the Conservative Party commitment to extend the moratorium for groups to put a bid together from six to nine months to take over assets of community value.

The Brexit Party also specifically refer to using extending the use of dormant assets for civil society. This is something we – and others in the sector – have been pushing for over a long period of time, though the Brexit Party don’t specify what exactly this would fund.

  • A radical new localism agenda, with a new wave of local powers to communities.

All parties refer to deepening devolution and strengthening localism. However, as we’ve seen with the 2011 Localism Act, centrally-mandated devolution of power isn’t enough – we need to establish true power partnerships for community power to flourish. Indeed, the proposals sketched out in the manifestos don’t represent a coherent vision for decentralisation.

This is a vital area of policy for a new Government of any colour if we are to give people more say over what happens in their local area and move away from our ridiculously over centralised national governance.

  • Keep public services local and turn the tide on outsourcing

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats refer to the potential for more accountable and locally-driven public services. The Conservatives highlight the potential of procurement to support charities and new ideas.

Labour’s focus is on the concept of community wealth building and local spending. The Liberal Democrats focus on ‘inviting local areas to take control of the services that matter to them most’.

There is certainly a level of vagueness to all three of these proposals. Yet they point in the right direction which will allow us to engage parties on the specifics of the Keep it Local principles, and share learning from the trailblazer Keep it Local councils.

  • Put communities in charge of major social, economic and regeneration funds.

The only clear reference to this call – on the design of EU replacement funding – is in the Conservative Party Manifesto.

Given that Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Parties are, to differing degrees, pitching themselves as parties of remain and/or a second referendum, this isn’t surprising. They have clearly decided that it would not be advantageous to lay out how they would design a post-EU funding settlement, given that they are arguing to keep the UK in the EU.

The Conservative Party recognise that the EU Structural Funds are overly bureaucratic – something we have long-heard from Locality members and through our Communities in Charge campaign. But despite this, EU funds have been transformational for many disadvantaged communities.

The focus on ‘giving disadvantaged people the skills they need to make a success of life’ is also welcome. However, given that the funds should be worth up to £14.4 billion over the next six years, we need greater clarity on the £500 million figure in the Conservative manifesto. If that was across the whole six-year funding settlement, it would represent a drop in the ocean.

Encouraging signs, but none will truly unleash the power of community

As we have shown, there are a handful of policies and proposals to cheer in parties’ manifestos, which would have a positive impact on the work of Locality members. With all these things, the devil is in the detail, and there are broad brush ideas which need fleshing out further. This is support Locality will be offering to parties should they be elected and provided the opportunity to implement their platforms.

We have not analysed in detail the wider impact of each manifesto across a range of other issues. Many will have a major impact on the people our members work with, such as welfare, housing, social care, immigration and climate change.

We would also point to the concerns expressed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies on the impact of manifesto commitments on the fiscal position for the UK over the next 5 years. This points to further potential cuts or tax increases which are not clearly set out in the party manifestos.

While there are encouraging signs, there’s a lack of strategic thinking about empowering communities across all the manifestos. So, we’ve been pushing major parties in recent weeks to respond to a series of questions on how they would do this, if they were to get into government. Watch this space for a summary of their responses shortly.

Useful links

· Locality’s General Election manifesto (.pdf). It includes tips on making your voice heard during a General Election campaign.

· Institute for Fiscal Studies – What do the election manifestos mean for local government funding?

· Institute for Fiscal Studies – Party manifesto analysis

· Institute for Fiscal Studies – Party manifesto spending on public services (.pdf)

· Local Government Information Unit – Can we see the future of localism in election manifestos?

· Resolution Foundation – The choice facing Britain: what the manifestos reveal (.pdf)

· Resolution Foundation – The shifting shape of social security