The Spectator

Will the collapse of councils be the next great scandal?

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Last month India managed to land a spacecraft on the moon for a third of the price of refurbishing Hammersmith Bridge. This startling fact captures both New Delhi’s efficiency and the staggering incompetence of our local councils.

It took two years and £9 million (in real terms) to build the bridge. It is set to cost almost £200 million to spruce it up and the work may not be complete until 2030. Hammersmith Bridge has become the perfect metaphor for what’s gone wrong with government: the carelessness, inertia and lack of concern for public money that is rife across the country.

The bill for doing up Croydon council’s headquarters was greater per square metre than that for building the Shard, Britain’s tallest skyscraper. Croydon has gone bust three times in the past two years, each time issuing a Section 114 notice, the closest a council can come to bankruptcy. An independent review found that Croydon was led by people who ‘avoid unwelcome and inconvenient feedback’ and ‘failed to focus’ on the budgetary crisis engulfing them. Jo Negrini, the council’s chief executive, walked away with a £437,000 payout.

What costs more? Price per square metre of both The Shard and Croydon council’s headquarters (figures from insidecroydon)

This week it was the turn of Birmingham council to go pop. It had prevaricated for years about the £760 million it owed women who were wrongly denied bonuses that were paid to their male counterparts. It should be no surprise to anyone that the city went bust. For decades, it has been mis-served by the largest, most sprawling council in Europe whereas Manchester has thrived under a selection of smaller, more nimble local authorities. Birmingham council should be broken up, rather than bailed out, and given new leadership.

Birmingham is Labour-run, but this is not a party political issue.

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