If there are two words hated by the metropolitan political class they are Local Government. Add 'reform' and you have a subject that Prime Ministers, obsessed with legacy and international reputation, would rather spend a holiday in a leper hospital than tackle. Local Government is the antithesis of sexy. Yet if there is to be a meaningful devolution of power from Whitehall and Westminster we need a local democratic structure geared to receiving it.
Firstly, there is no one single model of local government that fits all of England, its counties or regions. This will come as a shock to Whitehall, who imagine that 'one system fits all' is the way to go. Nick Drew has drawn attention to the manifest failure of the Cabinet system - under which councils are prevented by law from having more than ten councillors making the decisions. There may be places where this works - if so, they should keep it. If not, a multiplicity of alternatives are available.
I've previously used the township of Vail in Colorado as an example of a small community that runs its own police, fire, library service, buses, street cleaning and refuse disposal, street repairs and lighting and so on. Education is a County level responsibility. But Vail isn't the only local government sub-division in Colorado; the State has 64 counties, two of which (Denver and Broomfield) are 'unitary' city and counties. The other 62 accommodate 269 incorporated municipalities - a variety of statutory towns, statutory cities, home rule municipalities and one territorial charter. All have slightly different rules, laws and ways of doing things; Denver has a party-free Mayor and Council (though they tend to be Democrats, they're elected as independent persons - not party hacks). There are a multiplicity of taxes, charges, subventions, virements and so on, but it all hangs together and there is a very high degree of autonomy and a highly localist distribution of democratic decision making. Denver City Council, which runs the police force, legalised personal possession of cannabis after 53.5% of electors voted in favour. It's a bit like Norwich voting to do the same - and Norfolk County Council allowing them to do so.
There will be throughout England a multiplicity of local government inheritances, boundaries and structures that are within living memory and which even the disastrous centralising Local Government Act 1974 failed to eradicate from local memory. Some may be based on the old Hundreds, some may have a renewed role for Watch Committees, some Counties may want to form Consortia - which could potentially exercise a national power to rival London; imagine a reborn Northumbria governing everything from Yorkshire to the Scots border, with a full set of counties, cities and towns within it all exercising democratic power to the extent they desire.
Once Whitehall is taught the lesson that their job is to enable localist solutions, not to design them centrally, then we stand a good chance of success. But I fear we must have a mass cull of permanent secretaries and undersecretaries to get there.