Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Election 2010 - Cutting Out Waste

One issue figuring little in the hurly burly of the election is that of just how major economies can be made in the burden of government. Critical to this are the issues of waste, dispersion of responsibility, confusion, and the fact that many of the “non-government” bodies and agencies granted powers since 1997 are non-elected. They have become largely mechanisms for laundering taxpayer money into wealth opportunities and job havens for the Labour Party and its affiliates. For the ordinary citizen who has been forced to foot the bill is has become very difficult to work out who is in charge, why, and to what purpose.

There have been noises off from a number of quarters, largely on the Right, but now a set of proposals has been tabled to begin the real debate. Paul Carter, the Conservative Leader of Kent County Council has produced a document “Bold Steps For Radical Reform” available on the KCC web site in pdf sets out his ideas for England. What they amount to is taking the existing English Shire Counties and single authority Cities etc. and putting much of the relevant powers in their hands. This will mean the 46 councils absorbing the work and functions of the Regions and a large number of Quango’s.

A great deal of our lives and the services immediate to us are in the hands of these organisations and local government but we take little interest in them or have any awareness of what they do. The coverage of local affairs in the media has become minimal, so few of us know anything unless something immediate matters that directly bears on our day to day work or leisure. For this reason the issue of reform of all this is not a vote winner, if anything it could be a vote loser later if mishandled.

This is one explanation of the proposals to depend on the existing 46 authorities as they stand. That is to minimise disruption and the costs involved. Those of us who have waking nightmares of the Edward Heath upheavals of 1973-74 will know how bad it can be. The botch made in several parts of the country together with ducking the critical problems of the old rating system made it a mess for years. Perhaps as a first stage reform it would make sense to do it this way and then to mop up on some of the detail in particular areas later piece by piece. The current situation is such an expensive shambles that at least it would begin to establish some coherence.

The existing Regional Boundaries at present are a relic of the mid 20th Century wartime needs that became a tool for the Civil Service requirements for consultation and the occasional means of joint efforts in specific areas where some sort of established co-ordination was useful. For a few years I chaired one of these committees as an extra to my work commitments and all who attended did the same. Often sharing things could save us time and trouble in our own job

We did useful work without budgets or legal powers making sure that we knew what our neighbours were doing and making joint submissions to Whitehall with the agreement of our own councils to the central government departments. For these semi-informal committees to be elevated into actual major spending entities, making key strategic decisions and directions, moreover without any direct elections or democratic control over their membership, was stupid and asking for trouble and runaway costs. Also their boundaries mostly have little or no relation to realities on the ground by the end of the 20th Century.

Clearly Cr. Carter and KCC have an interest in reform of this type. Personally, I would prefer to see some additional mergers amongst a few neighbouring small authorities with a more careful structuring of responsibilities and reforming the mess that Council taxes are becoming. But if any new government could do something soon and something effective it might end so much of the confusion, corruption, and chaos of the present.

No comments:

Post a Comment