Sunday, September 28, 2014

Leicester Mercury column on devolution and local government

I forgot to check, but I was due to have this First Person column printed  in Friday's Leicester Mercury.

Bring back proper local government

Because the three party leaders panicked in the last week of the referendum and promised the Scottish parliament more powers, everyone is saying something must be done about England.

Some want only English MPs allowed to vote on laws that affect only England. Others want an English parliament. And some want regional government.

There is something to be said for all of these ideas, though English votes on English law would make little difference in practice. And, while I like the idea of an English parliament meeting in York or Manchester rather than Westminster, I doubt people would want to pay for a whole new level of government.

The same goes for regional assemblies, and they have another problem. If you want to start a pub argument, ask people where the boundaries of the East Midlands are and which city should be its capital and home to its regional assembly. (We both know the answer is not Nottingham, but you try convincing them of that.)

But the problem with the government of England goes deeper than any of these proposals allow. The real problem is the decline of local government that has been going on for decades.

The Labour government of 1945 is remembered for nationalising privately owned industries like coal, steel and the railways. But it also nationalised many services that had been run by local councils: water, gas, electricity and health.

In those days a city like Leicester also ran its own buses and trams. Now even schools have effectively been nationalised. Central government sets the curriculum and, if the secretary of state is Michael Gove, tries to tell pupils and teachers what to wear.

Meanwhile the government is so afraid of being blamed for council tax rises that it has made it next to impossible for councils to vary that much too.

What England needs is a reversal of this process. Responsibility must be returned from national government to local government. That way we should have more diversity and experiment, and elected representatives would be closer to the people they serve.

It would also lead to a revival of interest in local politics, because who ran your council would suddenly matter a lot more. It might also attract more impressive candidates to stand for the council, because those councils would wield real power.

One thing voters, politicians and the media would have to do is agree to give up complaining about a “postcode lottery”.

Different councils would have different spending priorities and come to different decisions. But that’s the real point about local government. It’s local.

Jonathan Calder blogs at Liberal England 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why not Nottingham?