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Friday, 27 July 2012

Harrogate - Local Authorities

Next up from the Harrogate Conference is the critical issue of local government. I can't disagree with a word of Richard North's analysis of the problem and suggested solutions. I'd add by way of illustration that in Switzerland the Communes, the lowest tier of government, account for 30% of autonomous expenditure, with the cantons accounting for a further 40% and the Swiss State commanding only 30% of government expenditure. In the UK only Council Tax is levied and applied locally - and its £25bn a year is just 5% of the UK tax take, the other 95% being levied directly by central government. Since Council tax is in practice set by the government, it's also true to say that 100% of UK taxes are determined centrally. This is the most appalling state of affairs.

For the scale of our democratic deficit at local level, and if you haven't done so already, please read Simon Jenkins' Big Bang Localism - and weep for Cameron's missed chances to make a difference. We have a mandarinate that set up emergency central power in the last war, and have refused to devolve it back ever since. They sabotaged Localism for this government, and I often have the feeling that until we strangle the last Permanent Secretary with the intestines of the last Local Government Minister we won't see change. 

The services that should be autonomously run at County or City level are manifold - health, education, highways - but so too are services that should be designed and delivered even more locally, at the level of the Parish. We need far fewer professional politicians and far more ordinary people in local government.

And yes, let's look at Newham and Tower Hamlets. Corrupt, nepotistic and as sleazy as any Pakistani village. Ha! Imagine giving them even more power - imagine allowing them to get their hands on taxes - imagine London Boroughs run by Sharia Law, say the critics of Localism. And this is a moot point. In fact I think that they are taking advantage of the present democratic deficit, and that devolving even more power to the Parishes in those boroughs will cure the ill. We would end up with a few utterly corrupt parishes, from which people and firms would vote with their feet and move. Property values in those parishes would collapse, taxes would dry up and the system would correct itself.

And there is one further point. Taxes determined and levied at County or City level, with central government functions supported by a subvention - to run defence, air traffic control and the like, services that cannot be devolved below the national level - should also include a levy for national economic structural adjustment. The disparities in living standards between the worst of Kentucky or Tennessee and the best of California are too great for our small island. A South Wales ex-coalmining town where life is so hopeless that self-murder appears a rational choice for too many young people needs aid, not abandonment. 


Anonymous said...

Mr R, Clearly you have not been reading Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs exposes for the past 50 years or so. What you propose will have to go hand in hand with strict supervision of the "local" incumbents.

Anonymous said...

Mr R, Clearly you have not been reading Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs exposes for the past 50 years or so. What you propose will have to go hand in hand with strict supervision of the "local" incumbents.

Anonymous said...

Apologies for the double posting. Blame the software as I only pressed the button once.

Anonymous said...

DP111 said..

The real problem is that politicians in the UK or the EU, have huge amounts of money at their disposal, with no check on their powers to spend or throw money around the world.

Switzerland OTH sidesteps the first issue by making the cantons the sole authority for levying taxes. As cantons are small, they do not have absurdly huge amounts of money at their disposal. In addition, there is a legal maximum on the rate of taxation. This further reduces the amount of disposable money available.

Furthermore, all budget proposals for the year by the canton or the federal government, is subject to a referendum, by law. On some relatively modest budget change, the Swiss can still force a referendum by collecting sufficient number of signatures.

There is no inheritance tax. Capital gains on private property (such as profits from the sale of shares) are tax-free..

All this reduces the ability of politicians to play fast and loose with taxpayers money, as they dont have any access to it.

In short, Big Government has been a disaster for the nation's finances, its economy, and the resilience of its people. Ditto the EU, but on a much larger scale.

Anonymous said...

DP111 wrote..

One of the interesting fallouts of Direct democracy is that the Swiss vote heavily in referenda, but hardly bother to turn out when electing parties for parliament.

This has been shown in poll after poll. When one thinks about it, it is obvious why. All policies are in the hands of the people. Politicians are merely appendage - they do what they have been told to do by law – in reality, it is the civil service that implements the law as defined by the people, period. No one gives a hoot for who is in “power” as they do not have the power.

In such a situation, I would not even mind the return of Tony Blair.

Gareth said...

Would it be a convenient step in the right direction to approach national government as a kind of collection agency for local tax revenue?

For example, income taxes could simply be collected by the Revenue and then passed directly to the council in which the taxpayer lives.

Scrobs... said...

We'll NEVER ever deal with anything in Tower Hamlets. End of.

Total waste of a train fare going to see them.

Their loss.

Anonymous said...

The trouble with DP111's comment on letting the civil servants make the laws, our civil servants are so corrupt and pro-EU this would not work. I am reading The Great Deception at the moment and the "Gold-Plating" of EU directives by civil servants is rife and probably still going on. We cannot trust anyone to act in the interests of the ordinary people.