Sunday, 4 November 2012

Relationship between Central and Local Government

I have sent in a response to the Commons Select Committee on

"Prospects for codifying the relationship between central and local government"

so I thought I would share this:

I just wanted to make a few comments in response to your 'consultation'.

I live in Stoke-on-Trent and have seen huge interference in local government amounting to party political manipulation, particularly by the Labour party, but the system is open to all parties to abuse.  I will come on to that.  

But first to the idea of having a code.  The principle of a code is in itself a good idea if the country were fair, but it's not.  For that reason I am not going to get bogged down in commenting on details of the code, as these things are too often empty words to look good and can so easily be over-ridden if the powers that be decide to anyway.

I do wonder why this code is being considered at a time when governance is becoming more and more centralised, especially financially, with less and less resource given to local government to provide services and the paring down of local government towards statutory obligations only.  This is accompanied by restrictions on local tax raising powers.  The appalling undemocratic academy system of schools, foisted on us by first Labour and now Conservative governments is a move to central control and local education authorities are on the way out.

Personally I'm in favour of well resourced local government, providing for empowerment of properly local people (not parachutists, paper candidates or political party ladder climbers)  to run their local areas for the benefit of residents, free from party political and central interference, but that just isn't the road we are on.  So I can't really see the point of a code for a relationship between central government and a local government which is being driven out of existence.

A much more useful idea would be to repeal the Local Government Act 2000 which is an undemocratic act open to party political abuse as it does not require any sensible justification for central government to move in and manipulate local councils.  

A governance commission was sent in to Stoke-on-Trent, it seems to me simply because the Labour party felt too many independent and BNP councillors were starting to be elected.  Now I'm no great fan of the BNP (they don't need intervention as they are proven quite capable of instigating their own demise), but I do confess to being an independent voter, depending on the independent, some are very good proper community representatives, others are despicable.  But the key point is whomever the electorate choose, be it BNP, independent or monster raving loony, it's their choice and the way to counter it is in a fair campaign, not by sending in the heavy mob.  The governance commission asked the council to look at the possibility of whole council elections, the council agreed to consider this but  this was later twisted into they had agreed to do it.  The results of a public consultation indicated a fairly even split between retaining thirds and moving to whole council elections.  Under the Local Government Act 2007, which is a much more reasonable way of doing things, the council then had a vote and reflected well the views of the public with an even split.  But it takes a 2/3 majority to decide on such a major change so the motion to move to whole council elections was defeated.  Whilst I favoured thirds, I would have thought it perfectly reasonable if the consultation had indicated a strong public opinion for whole council elections and the council had reflected this by >2/3 vote, to move to whole council elections.  I'm a democrat.  But the council vote was to retain thirds.  That is when the biggest outrageous event happened, central government moved in and forced whole council elections on the city, against local people and against local governance and imposed an interim board on us.  The then Labour government used the Local Government Act 2000 to do this, as no good reason is required.  This was done by a Labour government to assist Labour dominance in local government.  This had the further effect of undermining local opinion by foisting ward boundary changes on us.  The LGBCE produced a right mess of mostly 1 but also 2 and 3 member wards, contrary to public opinion.  Public opinion was somewhat more strongly in favour of 2 or 3 member wards than single member wards but overwhelmingly of the opinion that we didn't want a mixture, all wards should have the same number of councillors.  So we were ignored on that.  Furthermore we were told the council could have asked for single member wards only, which they didn't, but would not have been allowed to ask for two member wards only.  Where's the sense in that?  The new undemocratic system favours Labour dominance because it is easier for large parties to find candidates in whole elections and boundary changes are detrimental to independents with more of a personal relationship with the electorate in an area.  It also favours Labour dominance by alignment of local and general elections in 2015.

Above are the facts of undemocratic government interference in Stoke-on-Trent.  On top of that there are rumours I have heard, plus I was present at the local election count in 2011 though rules do not permit me discussing what I saw there.  There is talk of irregularities with the postal votes, to favour Labour.  I have also heard of usual polling stations especially in non-Labour voting areas being closed to the confusion of some of the electorate and forcing them to travel to other polling stations further away.  There were address confusions where some electorate did not vote in the ballot that actually applied to the ward they lived in.  There was lack of clarity and much speculation over whether at least one Labour candidate and likely others were actually eligible to stand for election.  I have no proof of these so make no allegations, none of the rumours may be true, but I have seen no investigations and it just doesn't inspire confidence when such rumours abound, especially when they sit on top of factual central government interference.

So, if you are going to codify the relationship between central and local government, don't just go through the motions or do it for spin purposes, actually mean it!

Some other points to make which may be further off topic, but I'll have my say anyway.  I think we should do away with cabinet systems in local government in favour of committee systems where all councillors have equitable roles and equal financial reward.  This helps to avoid their votes being 'bought' and is more democratic so every ordinary person's elected councillor gets a say in the decisions of council.  I also think we should have STV at local council elections.  This would encourage any number of local representatives to stand for election and be in with a proper chance and would also achieve election of the 'best fit' candidate to the local views.  But then I'm simply a believer in proper representative democracy rather than party politics.

Please include my contribution in your consultation process.

No comments:

Post a Comment