This week, David Cameron launched a major policy green paper outlining Conservative plans to give power back to local communities. For those of us committed to the concept of localism, this was one of the most exciting policy announcements for years.
Mr Cameron explained that “decentralisation, devolution and empowerment” were part of the Conservative approach to government, and stressed the importance of an “empowering state” rather than an “overpowering state”.
The policy document ‘Control Shift’ outlines a series of policies that will see powers transferred from the central state to local people and local institutions and can be downloaded from the Conservative party web site.
Amongst the proposals, the next Conservative Government will:
- Give local authorities a new discretionary power to levy business rate discounts, allowing them to help local shops and services, such as rural pubs or post offices.
The Conservative plans effectively mean that local councils will be able to use the business rate system not only to help struggling business, but to create competition between different councils, with lower rate areas attracting more businesses and thereby creating employment. Lower business rates will be particularly welcome in Barnet where reports show that unemployment has risen dramatically since the start of the recession.
- Provide citizens in all large cities with the opportunity to choose whether to have an elected mayor, through mayoral referendums.
In due course, this proposal should be extended to make it easier to allow all councils to hold referendums. As things stand, the leader of the council is not elected by the popular vote of the electorate but by a handful of councillors in the ruling party. That is not democracy.
- Increase the use of direct democracy, including allowing residents to veto high council tax rises, and instigating local referendums on local issues.
Local referendums on local issues will prevent councils trying to introduce unpopular or controversial policies that were not included in the ruling party’s manifesto.
- Require councils to publish detailed information online on expenditure by local councils – including the pay and perks of senior staff, and issuing new guidance to stop ‘rewards for failure’ to sacked town hall staff.
In my opinion, some of the proposals in this report do not go far enough – but they are a very good start. If you only need one reason to vote Conservative at the next election to get rid of this incompetent sleaze ridden Labour government, this is it!