Monday, 5 April 2010

Now this IS a Big Society

From time to time I've offered the town of Vail, in Colorado, as an example of how Localism works at the micro level; the town budget, it's police force, how the local sales Tax is applied and so on.

Brussels Journal carries an interesting piece on how Localism functions at the macro level - in Switzerland;
Long ago, the Swiss understood that most things government needs to do and constructively does are at the local level. So, unlike in most modern nation-states, local government has the bulk of the resources and activities, while the central government remains relatively small and less important in the daily lives of the people. In the U.S., roughly two-thirds of government is at the federal level, and one third is at the state and local level. Switzerland is just the opposite, with roughly two-thirds of government being at the state (canton) and local level.
Indeed, in overall state expenditure in Switzerland, the Communes, the lowest level of government, account for 30% of autonomous expenditure, whilst the Cantons have 40% and the Swiss State only commands 30% of total spend. Nor is this just a sharing of a State-determined tax pot; the Communes have the competence to determine property and income taxes, which account for fully a third of the total national tax-take, a power which makes them an equal player with both the State and the Cantons. In the UK the position is centralist beyond belief; only Council Tax, at about £25bn annually, is levied and collected locally. The remaining 95% of taxes are determined and collected centrally, and given that local councils are prevented by law from setting the Council Tax they want, rather than the level set by Whitehall, it's also true to say that 100% of UK taxes are determined centrally.

There is no fixed model either for the size of the Communes, or for the relationship of the Communes to the Cantons; again, such things are left to be determined locally, and thus Swiss government is the most delightful 'postcode lottery' of diversity, with administrative arrangements tailored to suit local circumstances rather than determined by rigid central diktat.

The following table, from Kubler and Ladner, demonstrates the spread in size of the lowest tier of Swiss municipality;

Thus in Switzerland there is an average of one lowest tier authority for each 2,700 of the population, with each Commune having real autonomy. By contrast, the UK has one lowest tier 'authority' for every 118,400 of us, with each ruled rigidly from Whitehall and with virtually no local autonomy.

Democratic deficit? This is off the scale. It's not hyperbole to say that our system of government in the UK has more in common with a South American dictatorship than with a European social democracy.

You will therefore understand the scale of my disappointment with Dave's 'Big Society', which is little more than a damp squib when what we desperately need is an earth-shattering big-bang Monster Rocket.

Switzerland isn't alone in terms of democratic access; France has one municipality for every 1,580 persons, and Germany one for every 4,925. My examplar US town of Vail is also pretty typical of democratic access in the US, with one municipality for every 7,000 persons.

And what's the best on offer from any UK political party right now? The right of a neighbourhood group to take over the running of the village hall, but only if it's falling down. How pathetic. How low have we fallen, how blinded have we been by a moribund centralist Statist party system run by foreign governments, corrupt oligarchs and nihilistic Marxist unions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said.