Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Tory Revolution Has Started!


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.
It is iniquitous that councils should be forced to hand over locally raised business rates to central government which then redistributes that money according to its own social agenda. Taxpayers in Conservative councils are being forced to subsidise those in profligate Labour areas.

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.
Although we are over-governed in this country, an elected Mayor is essential to help restore democratic accountability to local government.

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.
This is obviously a welcome measure although safeguards will need to be built in to prevent councils from keeping council tax increases low but raising stealth taxes in the form of fees and charges.

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.
Only those with their snouts in the trough could possibly object to this proposal. It is worth remembering that whilst some of the proposals in the green paper will require legislative changes, there is nothing to prevent any council from voluntarily publishing this information immediately.

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!

5 comments:

Duncan Macdonald said...

"Although we are over-governed in this country, an elected Mayor is essential to help restore democratic accountability to local government."

David - Are you talking about a Mayor with executive powers or a figure head. Either way it's a bad idea. It introduces yet another layer of government, further weakens the role of local councillors (bad enough under the cabinet system) and would allow those with inflated egos the chance to have even more bling. And how much would it cost?

Rog T said...

David,

I must say you are an optimist. Do you really think Business rates will be lower in Barnet under Mike Freer?

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Duncan

I agree that we do not need replica GLAs across the country, but I don’t think that is what is being proposed.

At present, we have a system where people can vote for a particular party led by one individual but then be governed by someone else without any democratic mandate. That needs to be changed.

The report proposes to give councils the power to scrap the cabinet system and return to the old committee system. I think there will be wide support for such a move, but also having a directly elected leader is important because ultimately the buck must stop somewhere. You could elect the Mayor more frequently than the rest of the council which would keep that person on his/her toes.

If you scrap the cabinet structure, then you could find the new system will actually be cheaper.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Rog

No, because by the time the Conservatives have introduced the necessary legislation to allow councils to lower business rates, Mike Freer will no longer be on the Council.

Interestingly, the policy document also proposes to allow councils to introduce a supplementary business rate – but unlike Mike Freer’s proposals in the Barnet Bond, the Conservatives plan “will give local firms the power to back or block any planned local business rate increase, using the model of Business Improvement Districts, where a levy can be imposed for improvement of the business district only if local businesses vote in favour of it.”

Daniel Hope said...

People also have to bear in mind the structure of the Council has a huge impact on the quality of the Councillors. Who would run for Council now knowing that there is a only a 1 in 6 chance, if elected, you could play any role in any decision?

When all Councillors ran the Council the calibre was a lot higher and none of them was paid more than a few peanutes. Now, with no power, they are paid fortunes but are anonymous folk who mostly have acheived litter in civic life before election. All parties struggle to fill all their seats.

I am regular contact with a large number of community activists and residents' leaders. None are interested, in the slightest, to become Councillors. If the system were to change back and people would have a real part to play far better people, including many of the above, would come forward to stand.

The days of the cronies, controlling people with £ and threats, would be over, maybe!