Local Rights and Responsibilities

Robyn Vinter is a journalist based in Leeds, and, no surprise, writes about the UK’s over-centralisation, the need for devolution and stronger local governance. Her observations from Yorkshire are not, however, uniquely Northern. Here, in Robyn’s piece published by ‘New Local’, local voices reflect widespread concerns for Local Authorities lacking authority:

… when you really dig down to the specific local issues, among the well-informed and carefully considered responses, more often than not people will talk about things that councils have little control over or are just simply not responsible for. They talk about council tax bandings, the number of jobs available for young people locally and poor public transport networks.

Most of all, they mention the consequences of austerity — though not austerity itself — and the effects they have noticed of enormous local authority budget cuts over the last decade — but, again, only the effects of shrinking budgets, no mention of the budgets themselves. Surprisingly often, people will even criticise their local council for its lack of presence, which I’m sure will be deeply frustrating to read for those who have had to make the difficult decision to cut services and jobs — and, of course, those who have had their jobs cut.

For many years now I have daily received notifications from a Google tracker that I set to report any mention of the phrase ‘municipal autonomy’. The results are remarkably global – originating from places with very different styles of national government, and always, of course, intensely local. But never, ever, is this phrase is reported from England or in a UK context. Constitutions in many countries (those that have bothered to write one down) embrace Municipal Autonomy as much a safeguard against central governmental overreach as the Catholic Church’s endorsement of subsidiarity ensures that responsibility is not inadvertently delegated upwards. The reports, often from local newspapers, reflect fierce battles to protect local governance and censure proposals deemed to infringe on local rights and responsibilities.

The diversity of places and people and their local priorities are important reflections of local identities, and yet, in the UK, such diversities are denigrated as Postcode Lotteries. But diversity cannot be wished away – even if the allocated resources rarely reflect perceived local priorities. Is it any surprise that less than 40% the electorate will bother to vote in local elections – for, surely, the results must seem of little consequence.

A sense of Municipal Autonomy is not a declaration of independence but a sensible recognition of citizen responsibilities to care for their neighbours, their places, and their sustainability on our planet. Citizens and their places cannot be atomised or commoditised as marketable units, and, from a local perspective, policies handed down from Whitehall struggle to be any more than pretty average.

* David Brunnen is media liaison officer for Fareham Liberal Democrats. He writes on Municipal Autonomy, Intelligent Communities, Sustainability & Digital Challenges.

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4 Comments

  • Helen Dudden 10th Aug '21 - 8:58am

    Housing for those with disabilities.
    This week I’ve had a little anti semitisum. Just a little, when is a little just too much?

  • Covid has shown that to tackle the climate emergency local authorities are going to need much more power and resources. It is to them that many of the actions will fall. We are naturally the Party that understands this and will enact if able.

  • Peter Martin 10th Aug '21 - 10:22am

    “Most of all, they mention the consequences of austerity — though not austerity itself — and the effects they have noticed of enormous local authority budget cuts over the last decade — but, again, only the effects of shrinking budgets, no mention of the budgets themselves”

    Sounds about right.

    This is largely because the main political parties, including the Lib Dems, always explain Government spending in household terms. If the Government is in debt, and hasn’t got the income, then there is no money to spend on local councils. And we don’t want to have to pay more taxes than we already do!

    You could at least have a try at explaining that if the Government cuts its spending it also cuts its income. All spending by the Government has to come back in taxes sooner or later. Unless, perhaps, some Bullingdon boy burns a £10 note in front of a homeless person! This, BTW , is the equivalent of sending of a £10 cheque to the taxman.

    The current situation should be used to explain that the Govt should spend what it takes to keep the economy moving. This doesn’t mean it can spend without limit. However, the limit needs to defined by the available resources in the economy which are finite. If the Govt overdoes it then we could have an inflation problem.

  • Graham Jeffs 10th Aug '21 - 11:00am

    As a party I fear we fail to put over a coherent message embracing all facets of local government and the way in which we would wish to enhance true local democracy and accountability.

    What happens is that we comment on various aspects individually. It comes over as little more than sound-bites. There is no expression of a vision that might conceivably excite the minority of people who take any interest in these things – but here is a wonderful opportunity to establish a real campaigning platform that could encourage others to get involved.

    “A sense of Municipal Autonomy is not a declaration of independence but a sensible recognition of citizen responsibilities to care for their neighbours, their places, and their sustainability on our planet. Citizens and their places cannot be atomised or commoditised as marketable units, and, from a local perspective, policies handed down from Whitehall struggle to be any more than pretty average.”

    Yes!

    But is the party going to do anything other than issue platitudes?

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