By John Stewart.
John Stewart is a local government guru. Married to the former leader of Birmingham Council, and a professor in the same city himself, Stewart has chronicled the life and times of the sector in many books as good as this one.
In assessing New Labour’s achievements, he claims the jury is still out. He points out that no successful modernisation programme can thrive in a command and control, target-obsessed culture. What he does not answer so effectively is how central government can let a thousand flowers bloom when cases such as Victoria Climbi’ reveal a pattern of chronic failure.
Stewart’s powers of analysis are formidable, not least when he argues that the executive and scrutiny committee structure in local government today has disempowered many councillors and staff who could previously focus in more depth on a service such as social care. Many reforms, Stewart argues, were inadequately researched before they were implemented.
Whether Labour’s far-reaching reforms such as neighbourhood renewal and community leadership can deliver their objectives remains to be seen. The strength of this book is its clarity about what is likely to work and what should be jettisoned.
Anthony Douglas is director of health and social care, Suffolk Council.