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. 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.
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.
There are those who talk of a democratic deficit in the UK as though it were a minor political imbalance. In fact it's 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 - UK government is stuck firmly in a wartime model of central command and control, and our mandarins and metropolitan political class would rather push hot needles into their own eyeballs than surrender a nanogram of power back to us.
My disappointment in Dave's public services white paper is even shared by 'Reform', the mildest and least adventurous advocate of true Localism, and that's a damning loss. And those who suffer are children cheated of an education and the ill cheated of healthcare; you may be astonished to discover that Switzerland has universal healthcare funded by compulsory health insurance and a universal education system funded from taxation, that both are superlative and operate at a fraction of the cost of their UK counterparts. The difference is Whitehall. We've got it, Switzerland hasn't. And Whitehall is directly responsible for generations of illiterate school leavers and inadequate health care - simply because they can't let go.
We really need to decide as a nation whether, when the cost of the inefficient Central State in human lives and potentials is so high, we are brave enough to embrace the solution.