Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Power of Democracy.

A contented glow will be falling upon the County Halls of Wales today. The BBC has given them the gift that they would have wanted at this time. The gist of this report is that our local authorities are so incredibly restrained and sagacious in how they spend our money, that Council Tax is going to rise this year at record low levels. And there was no mention at all that in two months time there are local council elections! Now that is a happy coincidence.


Stuart Rendel said...

No one asks the real question of why in a mature democracy we have capping. Local government should be allowed to set its own tax without any threats from the assembly. We have a situation where Labour which at one time promised to abolish capping in its 1997 manifesto now implementing the very Tory policy which they attacked. Local government has frankly ceased to exist in Wales and been replaced by local administration. The BBC coverage of the council tax sadly also reflects the lack of understanding by many of their journalists as far as local government is concerned. Councils have produced a low council tax increase in an election year by a variety of means such as using balances, increased charges and cuts in service provision. It's not rocket science. Watch out for further cuts after the election as councils struggle to maintain overspends in their budgets because of the unrealistic budget they have set. You can also forget a floor next year for councils such as Powys because of the idiotic decision by the stars who run Ynys Mon to go for 1.5% after pleading for extra money which could have gone to all the authorities.There is a real crisis in Welsh local government with all parties if they were honest reporting great difficulty in getting candidates for May. Even when they do get candidates they are often of a pretty poor calibre. Throw in officers who would not last 5 minutes in the private sector and the result is as Beecham privately pointed out second rate service delivery. Here is an issue which if the Tories went back to their roots as the champions of local democracy they could make a lot of head way against a Labour Party which is frightened of its own shadow when it comes to local government reform.

Glyn Davies said...

stuart - Well I've asked. In general, I believe that the advent of the Assembly has greatly weakened Local Government - through greater ring fencing of budgets, and through greater partnership, a synonym for control. Because Assembly Governments have gone down the road of effectively 'capping' over the last few years (OK,I know that it has been only the threat to 'cap') it would be difficult for any Government to stop - without appearing not to care about Council Tax. But I cannot argue with the premise of your argument.

I absolutely agree that there is a huge opportunity for us to revitalise Local Government, by giving Councils greater freedom to decide. But we have to abandon all this ring fencing and claiming every initiative as if its the Assembly Government's. We would have to accept variable standards of delivery. We would have to accept that there would be poor decision making as a result of the greater freedom. In Montgomeryshire, we have already decided that our campaign will be based in part in reconnecting the Council with the people. There is too much representing of the Council in the ward, rather than representing the people in the Council. On this issue Stuart, we are of like mind - and I really hope that my party grabs the opportunity that I agree is there.