Autonomous Mind has an interesting post on taking back the power, which we have all lost. It’s not that long ago that EUreferendum was suggesting “referism” could be a useful mechanism in ensuring voters had a much bigger say than we have now. Referism would require the budget devised by the government of the day, aided and abetted by their civil servants and advisers, to be voted on and agreed by the electorate. I thought this was a pretty damn fine idea. Okay there are issues but there always are. The politicians wouldn’t like it and there you have one of the main drivers to actually adopt it.
Autonomous Mind has suggested that “localism” could also be a tool, which could be employed by voters to gain greater input into local council decision-making. It would require councillors to be far more active, knowledgeable and dynamic which would result in Council Officers being controlled and being required to provide advice, guidance and support.
I’ve touched on this before in a slightly differing sense although the basic principle was the same. My Grandfather was a local councillor and served on various Housing Committees at Town and County levels. People approached fairly often and telephoned him etc. and he always made time for them. They lived in his ward mostly so he had a responsibility to them.
The Council officers were different then too. Most of them lived locally in the community and had done for a few generations at least. This also applied to the vast majority of the Council workforce. Both the officers and the workforce knew their friends and neighbours would judge them if they didn’t vary out their duties as required. It worked well. There was more of a sense of belonging and also appropriateness in the services delivered. A few miles doesn’t make a lot of difference? Well yes it does.
The arrival of regionalisation destroyed the local council. We had a district council which was dominated by the largest town and we had the regional council which was unwieldy. This would seem a reasonable point to identify as the moment when things went down hill. “Localism” was taken out of the equation. Identities lost and communities were no longer able to follow their own appropriate agendas.
We do need to take back control. The reasons for regionalisation were based in cost savings and scalability and they just didn’t work and continue not to work. Community Councils aren’t as good as Town Councils. Town Councils had oomph!
What would we require our local politicians to be like? Politicians would have to be accountable to the voters in their wards. The wards would have to be of a size, which would be manageable for a councillor. The councillor would have to be bright and have the interests of his ward and the greater town area at heart and they would have to live in the ward they represented.
There would be a need to address how councillors worked with the council officers. The relationship would have the officer subservient to the councillor and the councillor would have to knowledgeable about all of the council’s activities and services. The officers would provide facts and figures to help inform the councillors. Governance is key to all of this and yes that requires an element of procedural adherence as that is where the controls which would protect the voters would be defined, monitored and reviewed as needs required. Since these councils would be smaller there would be less of a need for complicated and time consuming administration.
Mainly though, the direct connection between the electorate and the elected would be re-established as would the local identity and needs of the local people voiced directly and without higher levels of government interference.
This wouldn’t go down well with Westminster. They wouldn’t like it. They wouldn’t have as much power. They wouldn’t have as many decisions to make.
Local Councillors would need to be better paid which might help attract good people. Where would the money come from for this? From the savings in the increasingly generous salaries paid to Council Officers. It might also be an opportune moment to provide people employed in the public sector with the same terms and conditions, pension rights etc. No more jobs for life. It would be jobs for as long as you are able to carry out your duties as defined in your roles and responsibilities. Just like the rest of us who aren’t employed by the state.
This could be fun. Although maybe not for everyone.