What is going to happen when the wave of local authority bankruptcies hits?
... as, in the coming months, must surely be highly likely. We've raised this before, and I remain extremely interested in it. As well as serious general political interest there's a local angle for me: after 6 years of Labour excesses, mismanagement and all-round failure, my borough (Croydon) is well up there with the most indebted, over-extended councils in the land. Others said to be near the brink are Luton, Oxford, Birmingham (!), Woking and Peterborough: and that's by no means the end of the watch-list.
There are a couple of clues as to what happens next. This month the government imposed a new Chief Executive - a turnaround specialist - on Croydon as the price for being willing to continue in dialogue with the Labour leadership. There must, though, surely be a very finite pool of genuinely competent *turnaround* merchants available at short notice. (I'd offer myself but I don't think t'unions would relish my management style ...)
The other massive clue is what happened in Northants, where the fateful day of the Section 114 Notice has come and gone. As well as the government dividing up the old responsibilities into newly-minted authorities with revised boundaries (which sounds like doing something radical just to make the point), rather than bailing them out the government gave them approval to sell capital assets until they'd filled the hole in the ordinary accounts. Generally speaking, a council's ability to do that is very heavily circumscribed, for obvious reasons.
So here's the vision. Council after council goes bust. If they couldn't contemplate rescuing Northants (Tory-held) in 2018, there's no way on earth the government is going to bail them all out: so massive, nationwide asset sales are mandated. There's been nothing like this since the Dissolution of the Monasteries, supervised by that outright genius of an administrator, Thomas Cromwell. And before that, the shakeout of labour relations following the Black Death.
This might actually be a major component in the dynamics of a post-Brexit, ongoing-Covid UK. Sadly, there's no obvious likelihood of a latter-day Cromwell to execute the same highly diligent job he made of the 16th Century version. (Cummings? Don't make us laugh.) Mostly, Cromwell ensured Henry got top dollar for the assets seized. Even under his distinctly hands-on guidance, however, there was plenty of dubious cronyism involved. We may be sure all manner of *bargains* will fall into undeserving hands at ridiculous prices - less Henry VIII, more Boris Yeltsin, I'm guessing. Which will be depressing.
If anyone truly relishes the idea of all the pieces being thrown up into the air ... I know what you mean, but be careful what you wish for. If Brum goes under, that'll be quite a crash.