Local Democracy

Deliverance Day minus 18. Today it was announced that that the government is going to take over the running of Doncaster Borough Council because they have been badly managed. The main concern is the Children Services department, but rather than take control of that single department it has been decided to macro manage the whole authority. Part of the problem is that the elected councillors are a Labour majority, while the executive authority lies with the elected Mayor who is an English Democrat. The Labour councillors still think they run the council and deliberately make life difficult for the Mayor. Earlier this year the Mayor produced a budget that cut Council Tax. This was rejected by the councillors who overturned the cut and insisted that the money be spent on their designated project. The Mayor had no choice but to raise the level of Council Tax. It serves the political interests of a Labour government to interfere in the English Democrat run council.

It demonstrates that Whitehall and Westminster have scant regard for local democracy. Council budgets are capped; business rates collected by councils are determined by the Treasury and handed to the government; new duties are forced on councils but they are not given adequate funding. Conservative and Labour governments act the same way. In the Doncaster example even though the Mayor had to back down, the opportunity was there for the English Democrats to contest the May local election on a platform of lower taxes. With Labour councillors defeated, the new councillors would be able to support the Mayor. Now that the government have taken over there is little incentive for people to vote and local democracy will be crushed.

Elected Mayors have proved to be controversial, a bit like marmite. However, if the dead hand of local party officers is to be removed the best chance is by electing a two man team of Mayor and Deputy who could be independents or from a small party. Resurgence would reform Local Authorities by moving all community and personal services to district level. Elections would be held every four years for the Mayor and Deputy. Four year fixed-term contracts would be offered for chief council officers to enable a newly elected mayoral team to appoint new officers. This might be resisted by the chief officers unions, but they are highly paid for what they do. Local Authority councillors can be reduced in numbers with single member wards. They’d get increased powers to monitor and scrutinise.

Council Tax would be replaced with a Site Value Rating system. The best way of explaining this is by using the example of a national house building company. They have standard house designs which are used all over the country. The same house is priced differently in different parts of the country even though the cost of construction is the same. The reason for this is the cost of the land on which the house is built. The land value varies from county to county. Site value rating taxes the land not the structures on it, and encourages improvement without penalty. The key is the planning use of the land. Once the local authority has granted planning permission the value increases and the authority recovers the benefit of that planning permission in a higher rate.

Central government would have to fully fund mandatory agency services. Public Protection services would be funded directly by the Home Office. It would be essential to respond to local public concerns and democratise the Public Protection services at county level by introducing elections every four years for the executive positions of Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff; with responsibility for civil defence, emergency planning, police, and fire and rescue services, including air ambulance and police flights. They would also coordinate the emergency ambulance service, mountain and coastal sea rescue; and liaise with national police and border forces. The Sheriff would appoint chief officers, executive directors and non-executive management board members on fixed term contracts of four years. An indirectly elected Watch Committee would monitor the Public Protection executive.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has fiercely resisted these ideas on the grounds that the police service would be politicised. They are already under the political control of the Home Secretary and favour the creation of regional police forces. They do not like the idea of being accountable to the people they serve and having to be responsive to the public’s priorities. They are nothing more than a trade union protecting their member’s vested interests. We would reverse the trend towards regional forces and allow local people to determine if previous amalgamations should be reversed.

The aim is to empower people.


One Response to Local Democracy

  1. Mike says:

    Not convinced about switching from Council Tax to Site Value Rating System. Seems like change for its own sake. Changing the sytem of local taxation always causes more problems than it solves and anyway the Council Tax works, is reasonably fair (no less so than your proposal). If it ain’t broke…

    I agree with ACPO (can’t believe I’ve actually said that) in that politicisation of the police is bad. Apart from the Met. Commissioner, Chief Constables are not answerable to the Home Secretary but to their local Police Committee, which included elected reps from local councils.
    The problem is surely too much politicisation (the targets culture comes from central government, as does the political correctness agenda they have adopted). The police would lose even more support from people who supported rival candidates for Sheriff and Dep. Sheriff. I think democracy has its limits and is not an appropriate means of control of the police, fire and ambulance. It rather assumes the existence of an informed electorate. The four-year contracts for chief officers would surely dissuade officers from accepting higher posts in the first place (they may be out of a job for 4 years).
    I agree with smaller constabularies. At least one per county and separate ones for larger cities. ACPO would love that – there’d be more of them!
    The basic problem with the police is their abandonment of preventive policing for reactive policing and PACE.

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