Thursday, December 29, 2005

Government plans to reinvigorate local democracy are a sham

The front page of today's Guardian carries a story about Government plans to reinvigorate local government.,9061,1674724,00.html

Reading between the lines and drawing on experience of this Government's attitude towards local councils, I am deeply sceptical of their motives.

David Miliband MP, the communities and local government minister talks about devolving power and giving more power to local people and neighbourhoods.

He talks of empowering "people through a national neighbourhoods framework, local neighbourhood charters, a rules of the road for local behaviour, and a range of options for neighbourhood action". I am not really sure what this means but I suspect it means more quangos, more pointless partnerships, more bureaucracy, more sidelining of locally elected politicians and more confusion amongst the electorate about who is in fact responsible for the delivery of local services.

What is needed is devolution of power from Westminster to local councils and less targets and less ring fenced funding. Also the Government needs to address the funding of local councils. Currently 3 quarters of funding comes from Government and only 1 quarter is raised locally. This balance needs reversing. This way local politicians can truly be accountable for local services and it will be seen as worthwhile for the majority of people to bother to vote.

Unfortunately I think what lies behind the Governments proposals is an agenda to further weaken and sideline local government. The Government aim is to break up the County Councils (most of which are Tory controlled). Hampshire and Kent (two excellent Conservative controlled Shires) are surely to be the first to be attacked.

I can't imagine that this Government that has gone more to micro manage from Whitehall every aspect of life in this country, that has done all it can to weaken the democratic role of Parliament, that has politicised the civil service and done all it can to castrate local democracy, is now having a change of heart.

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