Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The closure of Leicester's museums shows Britain is too centralised

Today's Leicester Mercury reports:
Leicester City Council plans to close three museums and a historic building – except for special occasions.

Public access to Jewry Wall museum, Belgrave Hall, Abbey Pumping Station and the Guildhall will end in October, and the sites will open only for scheduled events, such as school visits and steam days at the pumping station.
I could blame the Coalition for cutting the city's grant, but large cuts would have taken place under Labour too. I could blame the Labour-run council, but I do not have alternative ways of saving money at my fingertips.

So rather than play the blame game, let's take a step back and look at the real issue here. It is that a city like Leicester should not be so dependent on central government in the first place. More tax should be raised locally and less should go to central government.

If the bulk of the funding for the city's spending is provided by central government, as it is as present, then to a large extent decisions about what it should be are placed outside democratic control. How much money is spent in Leicester becomes a decision for Whitehall rather than for the city's people and democratic structures. And the amount of funding the city receives can vary markedly from year to year, which results in violent changes in policy like this one over its museums.

Leicester ought to be able to raise the funds for its museums locally. The fact that it does not do so is a sign that Britain is too centralised - as we learned in the summer when we learnt that the government was funding children's playgrounds.


Liberal Neil said...

I completely agree.

Several recent controversies have left me thinking that the real question is 'Why was the national government funding this in the first place?', rather than 'Why is the Government cutting this?'.

Of course the key question in the future is whether councils will be given the freedom to raise more money locally.

Frank Little said...

In principle, I agree, but it would be regressive to make this reform until council tax is replaced.