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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Localism corrupted (1) - Democracy

If we have seen a common retreat by the Big Three central parties from a Big State Britain - that all recognise is unaffordable - there has been no such retreat from Central State Britain. The circle that Cameron's shambolic government is now trying to square is how to maintain central State command and control with a budget of not more than 40% of GDP. The half-baked solution they've come up with is to shift the cost to charities and volunteers, who will continue to take their orders from Whitehall, but will do the job off the P&L account. IDS, a sincere and well-meaning man but by no means a genius, is replacing one failed central State welfare system with another that is on the verge of failure before it starts. 

You see, although they know that all public services should be devolved down to the lowest level at which they can be economically provided, they just can't bear to let go. And that's because when you devolve these services you need also to devolve the decision-making process, and that's what Whitehall and Westminster are gripping onto will all their collective might. It's anathema that a local neighbourhood council may make its own decision about the acceptable levels of litter on its streets, and how much they will pay to maintain their chosen standard. Instead, DEFRA issue a highly detailed guide to determine whether the National State Litter Standard is being maintained, and by definition dictates a level of expenditure to be applied everywhere from Truro to Longtown. Local councils are no more than Whitehall's branch offices, their supposed democratic status a sham, a reality known by the hundreds of thousands of local councillors who have walked away in disgust and despair since 1979. 

And so when Oliver Letwin, a minister with half a brain, is charged with finding the spending cuts from Whitehall's branch office network rather than from Whitehall's corridors of power he has little to fall back on but a new spin on a Thatcherite idea; privatisation. And of course he is ably assisted by the Central State's great allies and partners the Big Five; this time it's Crapita's turn to pocket the wedge.

Localis ('Localism Lite - keeps all of the powers with none of the costs') and Crapita Symonds have just authored a report that was launched last week by Letwin. 'Catalyst Councils' advises Whitehall's branch network how to outsource service provision without giving away the reins of power at the same time. Basically, as it comes down to giving the contracts to Whitehall's Services and FM favourites such as Serco and G4S. There's no great difference between this and Compulsory Competitive Tendering, which failed so abysmally in the 80s/90s (except for the firms who racked up the profits, of course).

The notion that a small neighbourhood council might directly employ a street-sweeper without asking him to provide a completed 600 page contract document, Equalities Policy, H&S Policy, RA&MS, Performance Bonds, OJEU notice, Management Structure, HR Policy and Fleet Management System just simply doesn't occur to them. As ever, it's just institutionalised corruption, jobs for the boys, barriers to entry and political graft and back scratching.


G. Tingey said...

There is the other aspect of corruptiojn, which is also the problem ...
Local corruption in councils, paying their local friends, and handy firms making a nice little earner ...
Why do you think that centralised control arrived in the first place?
The history of the setting up of the LCC, after all the other cities had proper governance, and the final decision was forced by the spreading of Cholera, and inefficient/corrupt/useless water & sewerage supplies.

Going down to local level means dealing with that local corruption ... AGAIN.

How to square that circle, then?

Nigel Sedgwick said...

I am with Raedwald on this call for better localism, and recollect my comment back in 2006 on Samizdata. If this link does not work for your browser, in taking you directly to the comment, search for "August 29, 2006 09:57".

To make it easy, and as the concept still looks good to me, I paste the text here:

In a workable democracy, each and every level of that democracy (national government, county council, district council, etc) should have independent control of its tax revenues (within the broad organisation of a constitution, written or unwritten).

Thus, local authorities should not be beholden to central government for either their tax revenues or their policies.

As a short route to this nirvana, at least as far as tax revenues are concerned, I suggest the following.

Income Tax revenues should be split into 3 portions, initially the same for each local authority area across the UK. There would be a portion for central government, a portion for county councils and a portion for district councils. [Note: where there are city, borough or other unitary authorities, they should receive the two portions not allocated to central government. A similar arrangement would apply to the split of tax concerning Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, coming out of the central government income tax portion.]

Thus, purely by way of example (with no particular significance of the percentage splits), central government might have their tax rates set at 50% of the current 10%, 22% and 40% rates, county councils might receive 30% of those current tax rates and district councils might receive 20% of those current tax rates.

After a settling-in period (say 2 years), each government authority (national, county and district), would be able to set its own particular tax rates.

There would be a very modest, and clearly disclosed, portion of taxation for differential regional support, decided annually by the national parliament (with a sum total of zero).

All Income Tax would continue to be collected by a single entity, as at present through PAYE and annual tax returns. That entity would be the part of HM Revenue and Customs responsible for Income Tax. The money collected would be routed directly to the appropriate government entity, by level and county/district.

The existing system of taxation would be slightly modified (during the initial transition period of approx 2 years) such that each taxable person would be identified with a particular pair of local authorities. Suitable arrangements would be put in place to deal with moving house, and the fair allocation of tax charged within a single tax year, allocated to each county/district local government authority.

In this way, local government would be much enhanced, through its independence of central government. There would be, in effect, local income tax. However, there would be only a very modest increase in the cost of the taxation.

The democratic benefit would be immense.

Best regards

Farenheit211 said...

I agree with localism and more local democracy but before that is done there needs to be a complete overhaul of the voters register and a hard look at voting practices.

The Labour Party, corrupted the electoral list with a lack of vigor on checks on who registers from which property, also their introduction of postal voting as a right made bad problems worse.

My worry is not how localism and expanded democracy will work in somewhere like Truro or Carlisle but how it will operate in our Islamic ghettos such as Tower Hamlets, Newham and Bradford et al. These areas already suffer from democratic deficit due to corrupt electoral practices and this in turn leads to corrupt councils?

In Newham for example it would be absolutely impossible to evict Labour from office due to the council favouring one particular confessional group in order to get the Labour vote out, also there appears to have been gerrymandering of wards using housing allocations in order to benefit Labour.

In Newham, it is Labour who you shall have even if you don't want it. The only alternative for many of the original residents of all races who objected to the policies of Labour in Newham was to give up the fight and move out. A move to localism in some areas will make things worse not better.

I would not want to be a non muslim living in one of our islamic ghettos under a localism that hands even more power to those headcases.

Anonymous said...

Farenheit211 has a valid and vexing point.
We advocate localism to mean the county - London is a real problem, London is a foreign land.

Although you are correct in everything you say Raedwald.

For me, I believe there is a higher authority.
The takeover and European-isation of Britain, began with the Local Government Act of 1972 - metropolitan councils are the bane of us and the drivers of European legislation.
Whitehall and Westminster are just cogs in the Brussels machine.
'Outsourcing', of responsibilities to Crapita et al is good for Brussels.
These lumpen and grossly top heavy crony corporates, are suffused with and therefore subsumed by British EU apparats. Thus, they are easily controlled through favour and the iron Brussels hand working these spineless puppets.

Control remains central and power is maintained and power means money and money comes from you and me.
Are you listening George and Ollie?

Anonymous said...

Back in the olden days, Mussolini used to call this alliance between corporate power and government power, fascism.

I don't think much has changed since then.

What we really need is for local people to assert power at local level, and bugger the government. There are far more local people than there are central staters.

BTW: Seeing as though it is Crapita this time instead of G4S, perhaps they have been forgiven for the congestion zone problems.

anon 2 said...

Right you are, right_writes! And local people taking local power would also disable the government's puppeteers. We could stop paying the euros.

We need to do it before the euros start recruiting major military resources though.

Edward Spalton said...

Compulsory competitive tendering was not all bad. Some council direct labour organisations were corrupt fiefdoms with the trade unions.

Derby was a filthy, litter-strewn place under this dispensation. The dustbin collectors used to spill a great deal to give their comrades in the street sweeping section plenty of overtime.

When the private contractors came in, the result was a cleaner city than we had ever seen before.

The council also introduced training for counter staff. I had to visit the council house quite frequently at the time and the old Derby hands in the queue kept wondering why they were being so smarmy! What were they up to?

Later, as a school governor, a county councillor told me how they had rigged the conditions of contract for school meals so that only their own direct labour department could possibly meet the conditions. She thought that was a smart move. At this time the county council had a policy that nobody could be sacked because of reorganisation. They went into a "pool" on full pay until they could be reassigned. This was a blatant attempt to create a payroll vote and it went hand in hand with almost Stalinist political control of schools. They had a reorganisation of secondary schools so that heads had to reapply for their jobs and the non PC could be weeded out.

Johnm said...

Not forgetting Westminster councils "houses for votes" gerrymandering. Which cost them some 40 million. But that was a tory council. Now: Exactly how much does capita donate ?
Or the pfi "bankrupt the country" scam, another tory idea. In fact over the years the conservative party has practiced corruption better than labour.

G. Tingey said...

And, of course outside of London ...
Bus deregulation has been such as thundering success hasn't it?
Oh, what a suprise!

Edward Spalton said...


What happened in Tory Westminster was nothing new. As leader of the London County Council, Herbert Morrison ((Peter Mandelson's grandfather) boasted that he would "build the Tories out of London" by siting Labour-voting council estates in Tory areas.

So we should not kid ourselves that there was any high-minded "golden age" of local government.