THERE ARE occasions when speeches delivered by public servants are so profound, and hard-hitting, that they deserve a national audience – and Jo Miller’s remarks to local government leaders fall into this category.
Doncaster Council’s chief executive is the outgoing president of Solace – the body which represents 1,800 town hall bosses – and she has used the platform to warn about the fragility of municipal services across the country.
These are the individuals who have had to implement the Government’s austerity agenda, a task made even more challenging by their inability to plan services – and budgets – for the medium term because Ministers are in survival mode and can’t look beyond the next crisis.
“No plan from 2020 is terrifying, inept, grossly unfair and is no way to run a business or country,” said Ms Miller at Solace’s annual conference before pointing out how a lack of clarity means children in local schools are not, by way of example, being given “much of a chance”.
She’s right. If town halls are to make the most of the resources at their disposal, and come up with innovative ways to help their communities, they deserve far more certainty than the on-the-hoof policy-making of Cabinet ministers.
And then there was Ms Miller’s devastating critique of Universal Credit and how a “Whitehall Ivory Tower overflowing with hubris” has created an “unholy mess” that has seen “food bank use and personal debt soar”.
As such, the Government should accept Ms Miller’s invitation to work with town hall leaders to improve the policy’s implementation at the sharp end. Council chiefs are not the enemy. They’re public servants doing their best for their communities. And, if Ministers listened for once, the delivery of key services could become more efficient and effective and, in doing so, do more to help poorer members of society.