Explaining local government

Local government in Britain since 1800

This book presents a history of local government in Britain from 1800 until the present day. It explains how local government in Britain has evolved from a structure that appeared to be relatively free from central government interference to, as John Prescott observes, ‘one of the most centralised systems of government in the Western world’. The book is an introduction to the development of local government in Britain but also balances values and political practice in relation to the evolving structures to provide a theory of the evolution of the system. It analyses local government prior to 1832 and its subsequent development into the uniform two-tier structures of the twentieth century. The book argues that the emergence of a ‘New Liberal’ national welfare state and, by the 1920s, the growth of the Labour Party, created pressures within central government to control local governments. This has led, post-1945, to the creation of larger, less-local units, and to further restraints on local autonomy, as electoral competition among National Parties to offer better public services and local economic growth ensures that national leaders cannot leave local authorities to administer to local needs as they see fit. The conclusion compares the development of British centralism with the pattern of central–local development, as well as the relative conservatism in re-structuring the systems in the United States and France.

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