The erosion of British local democracy

 

Slowly but surely, local democracy is being eroded away by the Conservatives and crumbling into the sea, like parts of the British coastline. Not everyone in Britain knows this is happening. Here is how…

The decision of forcing all schools to become academies, far from improving local democracy, will see decisions taken by Academy Executives who may live hundreds of miles from your school. Take the example of the E-ACT Academy trust, which has decided to remove local governing bodies entirely.

According to the Local Government Association, there is a forecast need for over 880,000 new primary school places in the UK over the next 10 years. This will require coordination and planning to ensure new schools and places are located in areas of need, rather than the free-for-all which will now ensue. In future, when parents of children at academies want to complain, they will have to go to a mandarin in Whitehall and getting a timely response and action will be as easy as getting Ryanair to give you compensation for a delayed flight.

When it comes to housing, a similar pattern emerges with the decision to force councils to sell off higher value social housing properties. These belong to housing associations and councils not Westminster, so yet another decision being forced on local decision-makers without their consultation. Who will the disabled and elderly be able to call, the day they discover their council has no more social housing left to rent and when they have no chance of getting a mortgage ?

The decision to merge local authorities is also being completed despite any concern for the wishes of local people. My council, Richmond upon Thames, is to merge services and back office staff with Wandsworth, based on the whim of our Council leader and based on a finger in the air estimate of £10 million of savings, a figure which has been challenged repeatedly by the Lib Dem opposition with no proper answer forthcoming. This decision was not subject to any form of local approval by residents, as the “we know best” approach comes first.

Finally the impact of the decision to devolve business rates to local councils while simultaneously exempting small businesses from them, will leave a massive financial black hole. As Tim Farron said in his budget response this is as much as anything else about devolving debt.

One day, the British people will realise there is nothing left which they can have a say in locally.  It is up to us, the Liberal Democrats to tell people that their local democracy is falling off the cliff edge before it’s too late.

* Chris Key is dad of two girls, multilingual and internationalist. He is a Lib Dem member in Twickenham who likes holding the local council and MPs to account.

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18 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Apr '16 - 3:22pm

    This is all very true and worrying , but our party cannot return to the days when policies of all parties were status quo right or wrong . Talk of a so called ,free for all ,eventually leads to the nonsense of “every local school should be a good school “. Good .How ?! We need to be the party of local democracy , and before during and after saying it and meaning it , the party of individual empowerment. The fact is in some areas schools are genuinely being created due to need and parental and local input . Let s not pretend otherwise.The worst of the Tory direction is it is centralising and undemocratic .All the more reason we should never let the word Democrat slip from our title .

  • Neil Sandison 11th Apr '16 - 3:41pm

    All very true but it gets worse you can add undermining the planning system with the presumption towards development with greater weight put on economic factors than the local environment and infrastructure concerns .
    Manipulating the planning system by insisting upon short periods of consultation undermining both planning officers and local residents where decisions will be made without a sound evidence base (fracking UCG ) Not protecting our national parks or ancient woodland sites many of which date back to the doomsday book .
    Perhaps our next PPB should be focused on these key message putting people and their communities first before tory dogma..

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Apr '16 - 5:14pm

    I disagree with forced academisation of schools and some other measures, but local democracy is in a terrible shape anyway and Lib Dems should have said more about it until now.

    In my local area it seems there is only one party campaigning (the Lib Dems) and I had to find out from a commentator on LDV whether my ward had an election or not. No wonder mainly only older people get involved in local democracy. Others probably haven’t got the time.

  • How can you complain about the erosion of local democracy but be pro EU ?

  • With respect Paul, the EU has much lower-level “competencies” (powers), such as the “tampon tax” saga showed?

    All the best.

  • nigel hunter 11th Apr '16 - 11:38pm

    Yes someone should get a grip for the Tories want to reduce the states intervention including council spending to 38% pre 1948 levels. In other words the privatisation of council services where money is the boss not peoples concerns.

  • “My council, Richmond upon Thames, is to merge services and back office staff with Wandsworth”

    From my parish council’s experience, the one service you should not share with any of your immediately neighbouring councils is Legal. We had a legal question over the handling of a planning application in a neighbouring parish that was under the control of the neighbouring district council. Because the two district councils used the same legal advisers, there was a conflict of interest that was only resolved by the parish council paying for it’s own independent legal advice…

  • @ John Marriott…………………….. Mrs Cameron senior seems to be more voluble than the Lib Dems on this, John. The fact is though that her lad’s government (with, at one time, the help of Alexander. D et al) have emasculated local government and want to sell the bits off to their pals with the Panama hats.

  • Neil Sandison 12th Apr '16 - 12:14pm

    What ever happened to the Localism Act .Day by Day we are seeing George Osbourne removing local accountability and representative democracy for unelected bodies like LEPs ,Academy Trusts and the introduction of regionalisation through the back door under Combined Authorities .The NHS is now a myriad of different bodies with no real local accountability .The system now reeks of self interest rather than community interest as much as it did under Thatcher and Blair .

  • Simon Banks 13th Apr '16 - 4:03pm

    The word “Liberal” in the UK means standing up for local democracy as much as anything. No problem with the word “Democrat”, but a Liberal IS a Democrat.

    Eddie is right: we stopped being effective champions of local democracy when we entered coalition. It was one of our greatest failings in government.

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