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Thursday 3 January 2019

Reform and Renewal - Localism

This is the most understated section in the Power Inquiry, and I have omitted number 11 as it deals with our membership of the EU, which is simply no longer relevant. 

The excuse most often made for the shape of British government - a highly centralised State that determines 96% of all taxes, a lower tier of government tasked with the rationing decisions of a proportion of those taxes on local services (determined centrally), with the poorest rate of democratic representation in the developed world - is that it is both efficient and effective. Utter spew. 

The central power grab is just a century old, born of emergency war powers that were never reversed. Before 1914 just about everything - water, power, gas, health, hospitals, almshouses, welfare, roads, lighting, transport, planning, public health, licencing, education and policing - was taxed, designed and managed locally by democratically accountable members and bodies. 

Arguments about economies of scale - that a public body can only economically collect waste, police the streets, licence building and so on at a certain size is an absolute fallacy. My own small gemeinde here provides 2,500 souls with water and sewerage at a quarter of the cost I paid in London for those services. Look back in this blog and you will find a similar analysis of the small town of Vail in the US, which maintains its own police force in addition to providing all local services. Cheaply. There is no objective, scientific reason for the shape of local government in the UK except for the convenience it offers to its masters in Whitehall.  

Once you accept that arguments for scale are pretty much spurious, and accept also that all public administrative functions should be carried out at the lowest level possible in order to maximise democratic control and accountability, you cannot excuse the gross insult to democracy that exists in the British structures. 

As we all know, in Switzerland, functions are split roughly into thirds between the central State - including the army, air traffic control, law and justice and suchlike, functions that can only be done nationally - and the Cantons and Municipalities. Each tier has independence in levying and collecting tax for its functions. If the UK did the same, we could shrink Whitehall and the Treasury by two-thirds and remove an irrelevant burden from the hands of our national legislature and its unaccountable NDPBs and fake charities. 

The phrase 'postcode lottery' is a quite brilliant con perpetuated by globalist sympathisers seeking to impose a homogeneous system of taxation, spending and services across all lands and peoples. UK Corporation Tax lower than France's? Postcode lottery! they cry - the EU must impose a harmonised rate of CT across the Union, to make things 'fair'. It's rubbish. It's fallacious. It's risible nonsense. And yet it's one of the excuses that Whitehall globalists make to justify their own existence. If my gemeinde, unlike others in the area, wants to impose a local and punitive tax on certain types of commercial activities that its voters find undesirable, it's not a postcode lottery, it's democracy.

The 'Big bang' decentralism required in the UK to free our nation from the malign grasp of the Whitehall authoritarian central Statists is far, far beyond the feeble recommendations made in 'Power', but here they are nonetheless:

Recommendation 6: There should be an unambiguous process of decentralisation of powers from central to local government.
Recommendation 7: A Concordat between central and local government setting out their respective powers.
Recommendation 8: Local Government to have enhanced powers to raise taxes and administer its own finances
Recommendation 9: Government should commission an independent mapping of quangos and other public bodies to clarify and renew lines of accountability between elected and unelected authority.
Recommendation 10: Ministerial meetings with representatives of business including lobbyists to be logged and listed on a monthly basis.


Stephen J said...

I can't offer much argument with any of that Raedwald.

The only problem as things stand, should we attempt to restore pre-1914 locally based municipal arrangements, which is highly desirable, is how do we get rid of the party system that seems to have finagled its way in to every orifice in the nation?

I know that people who pay rent or make mortgage payments tend to be conservative, in the dictionary sense of the word. However we don't have that, seemingly in order to vote, you just have to have had blood coursing through your veins for a set number of years, which seems to be on the verge of decreasing.

Perhaps we can change that requirement for voting qualification, the problem is that such an idea tends to strengthen the argument of those that think we were all so stupid that we voted to leave the EU in the first place. I suspect that had we been voting under my preferred metric, we would have voted 85/15% in favour of leaving though.

As the boys from Python reminded us, "strange women lying in ponds distributing swords, is no basis for a system of government".

I have never really understood why we should not move to a Swiss system of voter initiated local direct democracy, and certainly, even though it was not voter initiated, the recent referendum has engaged people from all quarters in civic matters. Although that was still (just about) a national issue for us, as far as the EU is concerned it is a local issue... The problem for them is that it is increasingly occurring in every locale.

Surely the internet, has enabled every citizen who takes an interest, to investigate any issue and reach a conclusion in order to vote...?

We do not need parties, other than loose arrangements that are more tendencies than rules based fiefdoms. We certainly don't need a Hess(eltine) or a Campbell to tell us that we should be dead, or given another chance to make the correct vote.

Dave_G said...

The turkey isn't going to vote for Christmas so who, precisely, is going to enable these recommendations?

Do you think .gov would countenance a referendum on the issue(s)?

The only way I see any change happening is if the current form of Government was 'destroyed' (utterly) and we all started from scratch.

FFS, we can't even get a majority (17.4M) vote on Brexit to be enacted the way it should......

Jack the dog said...

Radders, I totally agree with the direction of your thinking. Experience shows though that the ability locally to raise taxes and determine spending HAS to be combined with effective democratic controls and oversight at the local level.

This might be by means of regular townhall meetings or plebiscites.

The experience of the local police commissioners, which is theory is an excellent idea, has in practice yielded meagre results; partly no doubt due to a generally mediocre calibre of individual (mostly party hacks as far as I can see) but possibly more importantly, nobody seems that bothered to hold the bastards to account.

People can't be arsed.

And it is the holding the bastards' feet to the fire which delivers results.

The appalling fallout from centralisation which kind of works, in an expensive, incompetent way is that people have been able to avoid taking responsibility for the administration of their own communities which I find sad.

The reforms you describe will only work if a way is found to encourage them to evolve rather than imposing them from the centre.

That means a series of guinea pig towns and municipalities experimentng with different solutions, perhaps by bribing local electors with the possibility of lower rates and business taxes.

Any government run by Teresa May for example you can be sure would bring her unique brand of callous, authoritarian incompetence to the party which would guarantee failure, along with evrything else she has touched.

Somebody like IDS would handle it very well I think.

Etu said...

Well, that's exactly why Thatcher abolished the GLC and hobbled the power of councils generally, isn't it?

Local democracy might just, occasionally, produce local socialism.


Raedwald said...

Etu - correct

The Conservative party also lost a million members between 1979 - 1997 because of it - including me. It wasn't just emasculating councillors but destroying the autonomy of local Conservative Associations. And it was wrong.

I keep saying that Localism is self correcting; offered the spectre of Tower Hamlets with Localist powers, I answer that business would soon move out, as would wealth and investment, and voters would apply the necessary corrections.

Once you impose the duty on Councils to balance budgets, to tax as well as spend, you put real democratic power into the hands of voters.

Etu said...

So it's comically ironic, that it was her acolytes who squealed the loudest about what they claimed was the EU's "centralisation" of power, isn't it?

The very limited scope, of the Lisbon Treaty in generally uncontroversial areas of shared interests, was still just too much for them.

They talked of sovereignty, as old maiden aunts once talked of virginity.

It was a hoot though, to see how much they hated it up 'em, after handing it out to a far greater extent though.

Happy days.

Anonymous said...

Regarding economies of scale, I worked for a large national organisation and our branch had a local agreement with a small local car hire firm. They would deliver and collect to and from our site.
Then 'head office' negotiated a national contract. That meant that only the 'big three' were able to tender for the contract and that they had to factor in servicing the smallest and remote sites for their fixed-price rate. Needless to say the nationally negotiated rate was a lot higher than our local deal.

jack ketch said...

I wrote , badly,a long arse comment on AnnaRaccoon about my mate "Johannes" who is the power behind the barstool of the local mayor in a small 'Gemeinde' deep in Brother Grimm country and that he and the Gemeinderat are so desperate for refugees they have even purloined some from neighbouring towns by offering the refugees proper apartments, not just hostels. They, the village council,not Merkel, not the EU, not the Hessian State government, had decided they wanted as many 'refugees' as they could get.

Yes Johannes and the Gemeinde are did you guess? But when we were last there he showed us around the village and the new Old People's Home they were having built. Not the Federal government,not the state of Hessia, not the Medical Insurers, the Gemeinde decided they needed an old people's home. I don't know much about building but it looked pretty damn good. Be worse places to end up.

So yes 'localism' works but there are downsides -one being'people'. You want planning permission in Johannes' village to widen your driveway for this year's Mercedes model then you'd better pray you've not pissed off anyone on the parish council. Another problem is the levels of 'old boy' or 'mates rates' corruption , what the Germans call "Amigo" corruption. I would, again as Germans say, put 'my hand in the fire' for Johannes being honest, but human nature means up to a 1/3rd of the council won't be. Who got, and how the building contract for that old peoples home I wonder...

Raedwald said...

Jack - we have the same petty local corruption here, and one hears the phrase 'one hand washes the other' quite often. No personal experience in my gemeinde, but one hears stories. My young Baverian friends just shrug at my annoyance. One has to remember that both Germany and Austria rank quite low on the World Economic Forum index of judicial independence - corruption is embedded even in the judicial systems. The UK, Netherlands, Scandi and the old English Common Law nations have the highest ratings for freedom from corruption.

Etu said...

We have corruption at all levels, as do most power structures.

According to Cabinet Office papers, public sector procurement fraud costs us £21 billion a year, which makes the EU institutions a model of propriety by comparison.

But it's not just cost. It affects the Rule Of Law too. Cambridge Analytica, or SCL, apparently have or had contracts with HM Government - to do what exactly, we are not told.

But might this just be why May decided not to pursue the allegations against Vote.Leave before the referendum?

Raedwald said...

Etu - either you've lost a full stop or you're a Troll.

The last estimates of public sector procurement fraud I can find are from the National Fraud Office in 2011, which estimates fraud losses at 1% of procurement, £2.4bn in total.*

Your suggestion is closer to 10% and is simply not credible - or would you care to share the 'cabinet Office papers' reference?


Etu said...

I accept that figures vary widely according to methodology.

Here, the CS estimates anything from £31 billion to £49 billion:

Thank you for pointing out my error, however. The papers to which I referred broke down the £21 billion, and procurement fraud was only part of that.

Raedwald said...

... and this piece reports an EU finding that corruption costs the EU €990 billion each year - a figure that dwarfs any of the UK estimates one chooses;
hardly 'models of propriety'?

Etu said...

But that is within in the member nations' economies, not within the EU institutions.

Hardly surprising, as they are scrutinised by not just one, but by twenty-eight nations as well as by the Court Of Auditors.

Look, by a conservative estimate, crime costs the UK 7% of GDP. If we could reduce that to the EU average, then it would be halved, to 3.5% of GDP.

So why are the headlines all about the 0.7% of GDP that overseas aid costs, let alone the 0.4% that are our EU subs?

Raedwald said...

Etu - don't ever try to go into a career with figures - they're clearly not your strength!

Cost of crime (2018 govt figure*) £59 BILLION
That's 2.4%. If the EU average is 3.5%, it's already 50% higher than the UK.

And you're either seriously misinformed or astonishingly deluded if you imagine that Brexit is about our rebated contribution to the EU.

Look, it's as if you're posting fake figures from some ghastly and wholly mistaken / dishonest crib sheet that have nothing to do with the post or the comments of other responders.

Please, don't take that shit for granted any more than you take figures I offer. Except I can provide sources and references if called upon to do so.


Etu said...

Of course the government tries to make the crime figures look favourable on its watch.

They're very hard to assess, because there are positive contributions to the economy, e.g. the tax paid by the police, GDP contribution of security firms, and all the rest. I accept that reality is very complex.

But the pro-rata UK crime rate is about twice the EU average, and it's damned expensive. A lot more than either our EU subs or our overseas aid, by about an order.

The public have had their eyes diverted from the ball, to benefit the feudalists as ever.

Anyway, Happy New Year.