Opinion: Mr Quelch muscles in on localism

“Fellows near Mr. Quelch’s study window heard a sound from within—the rhythmic sound of a cane on trousers.”

Just who, I wondered, as I watched the House of Commons Select Committee hearing held last week, does the speaker remind me of? Then, as he spoke about using sticks against the laggards, an image from decades ago slipped into my mind.

Oh crikey! I realised that am listening to Mr Quelch, the merciless form master who beat Billy Bunter and his ill-behaved companions at Greyfriars with jolly regularity in the weekly Magnet. I swear that Nick Boles is Quelch reincarnated.

The Select Committee had gathered to interrogate Boles, the new planning minister, and Mark Prisk, the new Housing minister – though Prisk barely got a word in. Chairman Clive Betts, with his usual quizzical scepticism, enquired after the state of localism: “We started out with localism. Then we got moved onto something the Secretary of State called guided localism. And the next stage was muscular localism.”

Boles grinned and passionately declared neighbourhood plans: “the thing that transforms the rate of development in this country.” Then, still grinning cheerfully he got to the muscular bit. “There will be no doubt be a few laggards and we will be finding different ways… to make being a long term laggard painful.” Ouch! Beast! Boles is clearly loving being the cane-wielding form master: “Yes, there will be a combination of the bully bull bit and some carrots and sticks.”

In his evidence, Boles put the flesh on new powers in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill that ministers will use to bring laggard planning authorities into line. Councils that are too slow processing major planning applications or have too many decisions overturned at appeal will be put on ‘special measures’. If you think this sounds like the regime for schools, you are right. Boles made it very clear that the school special measures regime was what he had in mind.

Planners performance will be compiled into league tables. Boles stressed repeatedly that “very, very few” councils will have their planning powers diverted to the Planning Inspectorate. He promised: “we will work very hard to ensure that they are able to resume their independence as soon as possible.” But he did not explain how cash-strapped councils could be turned around when their planning income has been siphoned off to the Inspectorate.

If it’s “very, very” small number of councils that will be punished by Boles, then bringing in new legislation just to deal with – on my analysis – Hartlepool and Ribble Valley seems overkill. Why does he need a stick? Why can’t he just give them some extra-curricular coaching to help them pull their socks up? The answer I am sure is that Boles is already dreaming of widening the special measures. Once ministers have a power, they are going to want to be seen wielding it. Nottingham City, Wyre Forest, Bracknell Forest and Eastleigh may be the next in line.

Muscular this new regime may be, but it is certainly not localism. Mr Quelch is alive and well, wielding his cane from Eland House, SW1.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Bookmark the web address for this page or use the short url http://ldv.org.uk/30999 for Twitter and emails.

3 Comments

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?




Recent Comments

  • User AvatarEddie Sammon 30th Sep - 11:12am
    Ha ha, indeed Conor!
  • User AvatarJohnTilley 30th Sep - 11:00am
    Bill ".,,,,,This is why November is a key moment for influencing the result of a May election and why Parties which have the resources spend...
  • User AvatarEddie Sammon 30th Sep - 10:59am
    Economic policy written by Prateek Buch? The person who thinks inflation doesn't really matter? When it comes to pragmatism I am afraid it is hard...
  • User AvatarJohn Penson 30th Sep - 10:56am
    Sounds very interesting. Can you make it an e book so I can read it on my Kindle? Better way to spread the word in...
  • User Avatarmack (Not a Lib dem) 30th Sep - 10:55am
    @Julian Tisi "Yawn. It’s the old debt versus deficit difference again." Yes, it's funny that those dumb economists at the Daily Telegraph don't appreciate the...
  • User AvatarConor McGovern 30th Sep - 10:50am
    @Eddie - fair point. Obviously we have to be pragmatic, but in my view the leadership are being far too timid when it comes to...