John's Jottings for March 2004

John Ward

Please note: these Jottings are purely personal comment, and do not necessarily or directly represent the policy of either the Conservative Party or the Conservative Group on Medway Council.

Will Local Government Remain Truly Local?

There are some disturbing ideas being strongly mooted for non-national government in Britain, most notably the concept of Regional Assemblies, which is supported by both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.

There are the usual clever arguments put forward by those parties as to why Regional Assemblies would be "a good thing", but what they really mean is that control over what happens in any locality would be held by some large, remote body whose members have probably never even visited most of the towns and communities they are influencing.

One great benefit of truly local representation is that local councillors know the area well, and can even be stopped in the street to discuss issues of concern to local residents. I had this happen only this week, for example, and I am glad of the opportunity to listen to the public and respond to matters raised in the street, or anywhere else for that matter.

It has already been made very clear that these assemblies would take over many of the powers currently held by local authorities, including such contentious subjects as planning for example. How can an outfit based in Sussex or Hampshire have any idea about planning matters in Medway? Of course, it's impossible, especially as the assembly would be dealing with planning matters over the entire region and could not, for example, attend site visits and briefings as we local councillors frequently do.

The real reason for introducing Regional Assemblies is, perhaps predictably, to implement central government policy in the guise of being somehow "local". It's just camouflage for a socialist centralised State—nothing less.

Regional Assemblies would have the additional benefit, from the government's point of view, of being the fall guys for anything that goes badly ("it wasn't us, guv, it was them!"), while allowing the government to take the credit for anything that goes well. This already happens to an extent by having huge chunks of the national tax money that is returned to local areas couched in central government initiatives.

Of course, they would incur costs of their own, adding to taxation, as well as leaving even more avenues for conflict between different forms of governance. With just two government levels (local and national) there are only two lines of potential conflict: A to B and B to A. With three levels (i.e. including Regional Assemblies) there become six: A to B, A to C, B to A, B to C, C to A and C to B.

In other words, the whole idea is to benefit central government and not in any way for the local people themselves. Unsurprisingly it is the political parties who favour centralised Politburo-style control and are not really committed to local government who are in favour of Regional Assemblies. Clearly no-one with an agenda that supports local democracy could ever countenance taking that away and giving so much power to some monolithic outside agency that is in reality merely an arm of the centre.

It will therefore come as no surprise that I can never go along with the idea of Regional Assemblies.

Next time: Odd One Out