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Friday, 21 August 2009

The delights of the oddity

David Cameron approaches Localism as something that's a Good Thing and that should be included in his progressive vision, but sometimes he demonstrates that he doesn't quite get it.

It's not about telling local people what their problems are and then telling them that a Conservative government will take measures to solve them, it's about allowing local people to determine for themselves what their problems are and in giving them the necessary powers to do something about them.

The Indie reports
A drive for "responsible drinking" would include government action to raise taxes on alcopops, strong lagers and ciders, banning "loss-leader" alcohol sales by supermarkets and ending late-night sales by take-away shops and food stores. Speaking in Bolton, the Tory leader promised a crusade to improve public health, saying his party's pledge to boost NHS spending each year would not be enough.
Let's imagine something really progressive; let's imagine that licensing decisions are made by local magistrates who have absolute discretion to tailor local licences to local circumstances. Let's also imagine that local councils have control of both local sales tax and business rates. And let's imagine that the NHS is managed at, say, County level and funded by an age-weighted per capita block grant from central government. And that local voters hold the power to elect or dispose of all those who run these things.

Mr Cameron might remember that it was not the central State that took the initiative to build reservoirs and water supplies to combat Cholera, not the central State that commissioned and built local gasworks and power stations, and not the central State that first provided hospitals, schools and libraries. It was not the central State that ordered public baths and de-lousing stations to keep the poor clean and free from vermin, and it was not the central State that built pavements, roads and sewers.

All these things were first done at the initiative of local government, who demonstrated that their high levels of concern over issues including public health were best understood and best implemented at local level.

Imagine if the 2006 Health Act allowed local licensing magistrates to impose conditions in respect of non-smoking in pubs, bars and cafes, even on a premises-by-premises basis. Localists such as I contend that this would immeasurably improve the quality of decision making when compared with central State blanket diktat. Statists cry 'postcode lottery!' and protest that local discretion will result in a great diversity of provision. True. And why not?

Those who have known the delights of the oddity will know what I mean. The two pubs in Smithfield that used to open at 6am when the rest of the capital's pubs were closed until 11am. The half-hour difference in last orders between one licensing district and an adjacent one. The licensing district that routinely refused on-premises licences to fresh seafood cafes, leading a clutch of such places to encourage customers to bring their own Pouilly-Fumé to drink with a dozen fat natives or a freshly seared crab for a 50p cork-and-chill charge. All of these are anathema to a central Statist bureaucracy, and a delight to the rest of us.

C'mon, Mr Cameron. Let's see you be truly progressive; let's see you be Localist.


Witterings From Witney said...

Do I remember the pubs in Smithfield!

Do I detect a disciple, like me, of The Plan. If only Cameron would adopt the 'localism' that it contains!

Nice post!

Budgie said...

Actually many of the facilities you list as having been provided by local government were first provided by local citizens - ie it was often private enterprise initially.

Anonymous said...

There's a possible transition issue.

The iron grip of central control has produced a generation of total incompetents in local government, because nobody of worth wants to be in a position to be blamed for everything but responsible for nothing.

We need to get some good people into these positions before we let them run amok; I can well imagine the results if the current administrations of numpties were given real power.