Thursday 23 October 2008

What’s gone wrong with local government?

I have just stumbled across the web site of Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Harwich & Clacton. Mr Carswell first stood for Parliament in 2001 in the Sedgefield Constituency against a certain Anthony Charles Lynton Blair. Mr Carswell is a Eurosceptic and co founded the Direct Democracy group - an organisation which embraces ‘radical localism’ and the democratisation of quangos.

In a paper for the Adam Smith Institute, Douglas called for the abolition of Council Tax and for VAT to be converted into a local sales tax, to make local authorities self-financing.

Mr Carswell’s also has a blog and his latest piece describes a problem with his local council - but it is a tale we have heard countless times about councils the length and breadth of the UK.

Thanks to the Local Government Act 2000, introduced by the aforementioned Mr Blair, unelected and unaccountable officials now wield enormous power which can be exercised without reference to the elected councillors. The committee system which worked well for generations has been thrown on to the scrap heap, and ordinary councillors have been completely emasculated by the Cabinet system.

I do hope that when the Conservatives are returned to office at the next election, that Mr Carswell is given a prominent role in reforming local government and restoring real power to the people. I reprint his blog below.


What’s gone wrong with local government?
By Douglas Carswell MP

Few things better illustrate what's wrong with local government than this;

Tendring district council in my constituency commissioned an expensive public fountain for Clacton town centre. Some local residents were sceptical, arguing it wasted public money. The fountain enthusiasts argued it put something back into our town. Either way, both sides could take comfort that it was a local decision.

Or was ....

Something called the Health Protection Agency has now got involved. One of their "experts" ordered the fountain shut. Apparently, to comply with "new draft national water guidelines" the fountain must go "on public health grounds as a precautionary measure."

Thus are our town hall officials incapable of running a municipal fountain. Indeed, I doubt they could even run a bath. At no point does it seem to have occurred to Tendring council that if you start asking remote officials whose job it is to say "no" for permission to do something, they are very likely to say "no".

The council didn't have a change of heart because they listened to local people. No. They paid heed to remote health and safety officials.

What is so insulting to local democracy isn't just that a bumptious little official at the Health Protection Agency carries more weight than local residents, but the fact that the council boasts of its willingness to submit to them. Tending council brags "the council is very fortunate to be working so closely with the expert from the Health Protection Agency."

If only council officials worked as closely with voters and the unfortunate, put upon council taxpayer.

No comments: