Local Government reorganisation
The Local Government Commission for England, xx xxxxxx xx,
Dolphyn Court, Southborough,
10-11 Great Turnstile, Tunbridge Wells,
Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Kent. TN4 XXX
London, Phone (0892) XXXXX (home)
WC1V 7JU. (0892) XXXXX (work)
6 April 1994
Local Government Reorganisation
This is my opinion on Local Government reorganisation;
My personal interest
I am writing as a member of the public, I am interested in Local politics, and would like All Government to be both perceived and to be relevant and accountable to the public, and thereby attract the interest of the public which Government serves.
It is important that the outcome of the Local Government reorganisation is that local democracy is not lost or diminished. I believe that if the county is reorganised into a 3, 7 or other number of unitary authorities, the outcome will be the same, the new elected bodies being virtually powerless with the service providers and non-elected bodies running everything for there own ends.
New Unitary Authorities will be burdened with loans taken out to cover the costs of reorganisation, therefore making them expensive, inefficient because of there own disorganisation, and very unpopular. Companies and Quangos that may be doing the services may well do some things very well, but those things may not be what the public wants, but primarily will be making money for themselves, they will not necessarily be accountable to a democratically elected body. Power will be taken away from local control just leaving the remaining power in the hands of the service providers, and Central Government.
The Case Against Unitary Authorities
A three, or seven unitary authority option, would result in Councillors without power which would be no good to anyone.
Agencies providing services would be beyond local control, particularly where the service provider are providing services for many Elected Authorities. They would be in the position to dictate conditions to the Elected Authority.
This is because, Unitary Authorities would be too small to have full democratic control over the agencies which they are buying services, and together the Authorities would be unlikely to agree common policy concerning services. At present District and County Council are not good at consulting with each other despite having Councillors on both Councils, and in the case until recently of Tunbridge Wells sharing the same political party this situation could only worsen between Unitary Authorities who have no formal ties. – This would leave the service providers in a position of dictating conditions and policy to the Unitary Authorities thereby undermining democratic control. In addition these agencies may become virtual monopolies.
In addition, if the costs of making these changes fall on the new Authorities who will have to repay loans, they will find it difficult to offer cheaper or better services, this will put unfair pressure on the Authorities to buy in perhaps short term loss leader services from agencies. Services provided by Local Authorities which are quite good may be taken away for local control unnecessarily.
My Preferred Solution
I would like to see regional government with powers devolved from Central Government to it, plus smaller Local Government as the present district Councils. I understand this is not on offer, at the moment.
I am in favour a variation of Status Quo option which is to leave Local Government more or less as it is with Borough boundaries changed to reflect recent parliamentary boundary changes, but with it’s powers, and responsibilities strengthened so that the authority’s influence best reflects its size, and the matters that effect the area. It is important that Local Government should be relevant, and available to us the ordinary people.
Services should be brought out of quango control and in to local control. These modest changes would prevent the serious costs, and disruption I mentioned above and would prevent the sudden loss of powers from local government in the upheaval.
Status Quo would mean we would not be throwing away the significant gains the Opposition Parties have made in local authorities, which the public voted for. We would not be assisting the Government to Gerry Mander the Opposition Parties out of power, and therefore would avoid the blame for the inevitable disruption, and poor service that will undoubtable occur during, and after the transition to what amounts to centralisation.
Problems with Fixing Local Government in the future
If three Unitary Authorities were selected it would be costly and more difficult to modify them into regional Government, and put back a layer of smaller Local Authorities.
If seven Unitary Authorities were selected it would be costly to put in a layer above of regional Government, and convert the Unitary Authorities into smaller Local Authorities.
In either case there will be a great loss of experience, expertise, and accountability as will be case if change to Unitary Authorities goes ahead.
This would be perceived as more waste, at great cost for no benefit.
I have been told by different people at different times that before the 1972 Local Government reorganisation that Southborough Town Council which operated most of its local services such as refuse collection, street lighting etc, and many other services, was then a very much more “efficient” council than Tunbridge Wells Borough, or Southborough Town Council is at present. Currently Southborough Town Council has the same status as a Parish Council.
The point is that I believe the most effective Local Government comes with being long established, but with minimal changes from time to time. Powers should be at the lowest level, but with regard to strategic planning which regional government can only do. Such as shop type and shop floor area targets and limits which county already sets.
Criticism of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s submission
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council at present is in favour of the change to Unitary Authorities, but does not know how much the change will cost, and if the way the council is debating these issues at present is an example of how the borough expect new Unitary Authorities to operate in the future you can expect far less accountable Local Government should this happen.
As a member of the public, I have recently attended two working party meetings on Local Government Reorganisation at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, which I was told I was not entitled to attend or know about, but was allowed to attend. This seems strange to me because in a letter from the Council I am told that Working Parties are informal groups of members, but I am also told in the letter that it ‘acts merely in an advisory role and reports its recommendations to a “Parent” Committee’1 – The Commission should not treat Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s or Kent Association of District Council’s submission which is much the same with much significants.
As of this date I have not seen any notice of any public consultation by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in the local press or by invitation to all council tax payers – this is a serious omission for such an important issue to be just nodded through, as I have observed by Council.
Note 1 – After writing to the Council, the Local Government Ombudsman, and the Labour Group of Councillors have complained about this practice. I have been told by the Chief Executive that the practice of Working Parties will be reviewed in May.