Local democracy proposal

Proposer
philipjohn
State

Rejected

Vote Score

0

Age

2510 days


@philipjohn edited democracy.md - almost 7 years ago

Devolution

Devolve all legislative powers currently enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament to equivalent devolved Parliaments in England, Wales and (eventually) Northern Ireland. The UK Parliament to retain control over macro-economic, foreign, and defence policy.

Devolve all legislative powers currently enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament to equivalent devolved Parliaments in England, Wales and (eventually) Northern Ireland. The UK Parliament to retain control over macro-economic, foreign, and defence policy.

Local Democracy

Structure

The current three-tier structure of local democracy (county, local and parish councils) will be reformed to remove the county and parish-level councils. Local authorities, as the current council tax collecting bodies, will take over responsibilities from county and parish councils.

Existing city-wide councils, such as Birmingham, will be split up into smaller town and district authorities.

Local authorities will be encouraged to share services and pool resources in order to save costs and provide a more efficient service.

New neighbourhood associations would be formed to replace parish councils but with no responsibility to deliver services, acting instead as a citizen-led accountability check on local authorities. As part of this, neighbourhood associations will be led by elected representatives. However, the party system will not apply - candidates will not be able to campaign as a party representative nor receive assistance from the local party branch. This will help to change the focus to local representatives rather than elections become pseudo-referenda.

Funding

Local authorities will collect and retain council tax and business rates in their area. Additionally, there will be a "citizen premium" to ensure that there isn't a wide disparity in income between authorities. Any authority whose income fails to meet the level of the citizen premium will recieve a central government grant. Equally, any authority making a surplus will send that surplus to central government.

PaulJRobinson

@PaulJRobinson - almost 7 years ago

Some good stuff here. One thought on your suggestion that income should be distributed more evenly between councils: My understanding is that this is already the case. Here in Surrey I am told that if we didn't have to redistribute our funds to poorer areas (some South London boroughs were given as examples) then we could afford a 50% reduction in our Council Tax and maintain the same level of services - essentially our tax is very high but we actually get to use a much smaller proportion of the funds generated. I mention that not because I'm in favour of a 50% cut here, but to make the point that there already is significant redistribution. I'll see if I can find some documented evidence of that.

PaulJRobinson

@PaulJRobinson - almost 7 years ago

Just thinking: Don't unitary councils already fulfil your proposal to merge County and Borough/District councils? That is essentially what a Unitary Council is I think?

Also isn't a Parish/Town Council more democratically accountable than a Neighbourhood Association - even if it is led by an elected representative? Could you expand on what you don't like about Parish Councils? Full disclosure: I'm currently a Town (read Parish) Councillor and I find that it has very few powers to redistribute if it was to be abolished! Towns/Parishes already do serve a role in holding Borough/District Councils to account as they can act as a rallying mouthpiece on local issues such as a hospital closure/new housing development/bypass etc. I do agree that there is a strong argument for removing the political party element at this level, but when you get down to it all layers of government would probably be better served with fewer party affiliations.

Floppy

@Floppy - almost 7 years ago

I certainly agree with simplifying the system, though I'm not sure exactly how. The current mess of councils at different levels (and different levels in different areas) is confusing as all hell, and nobody knows who does what, none of which helps engagement in local democracy.

Floppy

@Floppy - almost 7 years ago

Sorry, accidental close.

philipjohn

@philipjohn - almost 7 years ago

@PaulJRobinson If that's already the case, then great! I'm guessing DCLG would be the place to find out for sure? I'll ask my local gov friends as well...

"That is essentially what a Unitary Council is I think?" I think you may be right, yes, and I did consider saying "convert everything to a unitary..." but wondered on whether that would get across my point about district-level authorities. E.g. one result of this would be that big authorities like Birmingham City Council would be broken up into smaller district authorities.

Re parishes: this PR might just be the result of my perceptions rather than any basis in reality. So, BIG caveat. Basically, I get the impression that most people haven't got a clue about their local parish council which is usually made up of 60+ year olds and so not particularly representative. Neighbourhood association might be the wrong terminology here too as this would be something new (which may naturally replace existing NAs) with only a democratic mandate. The devil is in the detail I guess.

On a side note, I live with what is apparently the most powerful parish council in the country, with responsibility for some public highways amongst other things...

"all layers of government would probably be better served with fewer party affiliations" 👍 👍

@philipjohn edited democracy.md - almost 7 years ago

Devolution

Devolve all legislative powers currently enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament to equivalent devolved Parliaments in England, Wales and (eventually) Northern Ireland. The UK Parliament to retain control over macro-economic, foreign, and defence policy.

Devolve all legislative powers currently enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament to equivalent devolved Parliaments in England, Wales and (eventually) Northern Ireland. The UK Parliament to retain control over macro-economic, foreign, and defence policy.

Local Democracy

Structure

The current three-tier structure of local democracy (county, local and parish councils) will be reformed to remove the county and parish-level councils. Local authorities, as the current council tax collecting bodies, will take over responsibilities from county and parish councils.

Existing city-wide councils, such as Birmingham, will be split up into smaller town and district authorities, but given the power to create "city assemblies" where they can form a city-wide collective in order to operate in concert with each other over areas like transport infrastructure.

Local authorities will be encouraged to share services and pool resources in order to save costs and provide a more efficient service.

New neighbourhood associations would be formed to replace parish councils but with no responsibility to deliver services, acting instead as a citizen-led accountability check on local authorities. As part of this, neighbourhood associations will be led by elected representatives. However, the party system will not apply - candidates will not be able to campaign as a party representative nor receive assistance from the local party branch. This will help to change the focus to local representatives rather than elections become pseudo-referenda.

Funding

Local authorities will collect and retain council tax and business rates in their area. Additionally, there will be a "citizen premium" to ensure that there isn't a wide disparity in income between authorities. Any authority whose income fails to meet the level of the citizen premium will recieve a central government grant. Equally, any authority making a surplus will send that surplus to central government.

PaulJRobinson

@PaulJRobinson - over 6 years ago

Do you have any references to point me towards for more detail? I'd like to read up a bit more on this. thanks

philipjohn

@philipjohn - over 6 years ago

Sorry Paul on which bit? Or are you after more context?

philipjohn

@philipjohn - over 6 years ago

Saw this article this week which explores well this very idea http://www.democraticaudit.com/?p=4408

PaulJRobinson

@PaulJRobinson - over 6 years ago

Nice article.

On 17 April 2014 21:55, philipjohn [email protected] wrote:

Saw this article this week which explores well this very idea http://www.democraticaudit.com/?p=4408

— Reply to this email directly or view it on GitHubhttps://github.com/openpolitics/manifesto/pull/74#issuecomment-40761579 .

philipjohn

@philipjohn - over 6 years ago

@frankieroberto Would be interested on your thoughts on http://www.democraticaudit.com/?p=4408 if you have the time :)

frankieroberto

@frankieroberto - over 6 years ago

@philipjohn I agree with much of the analysis in that report — basically, governance for issues that affect whole cities should rest with an authority responsible for the entire city region. I also support city authorities having more responsibility to raise finance and levy taxes.

philipjohn

@philipjohn - over 6 years ago

Sounds like the difference between our two proposals then is that I'm proposing we give local authorities the power to form city regions of their own accord, while yours has city regions created by Westminster in collaboration. I'm obviously going to say my way is better ;) but seriously, I do think that's a good way to do it, as it devolves the responsibility to LAs and encourages them to work together off their own back, not told to by Westminster. What do you say?

frankieroberto

@frankieroberto - over 6 years ago

@philipjohn whilst I think that neighbouring councils 'working together' (either informally on a service-by-service basis or more formally via partnerships) is a good stop-gap solution, and proves the concept is workable, there are some problems with that approach. The most important is that it's less accountable – there's no directly elected leader/mayor of the combined authority, or directly elected members whose job it is to scrutinise. The second is that, because it's voluntary, a council which represents a particularly rich part of a city might choose not to co-operate on the grounds that it would inevitably mean the taxes of their constituents going towards helping the rest of the city.

It's also worth noting that the Combined Authorities (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combined_authority) have to be approved by the Secretary for State anyway – so it's not too much of a stretch to solidify these as more permanent structures with direct elections and borrowing powers.

philipjohn

@philipjohn - over 6 years ago

My fear is that by moving to a wider authority is that it increases the distance between the electorate and their representatives, making democracy less local. A city authority would be more likely to apply uniform services across a larger region than would otherwise happen. That would work well in many areas but in many others those services would lose their local differences. Residents hoping to oppose changes or in any way lobby for change would find they need to sway a much higher number of elected representatives in order to get an inevitably larger council.

I guess my proposal is actually very similar to LEPs, thinking about it, but with the opportunity to have more power if they can demonstrate they have the mandate and ability to deal with it.

Floppy

@Floppy - over 6 years ago

I'd love to get this and #63 merged in, but I think they overlap quite extensively. Shall we organise a group-editing session or something to hash this out directly?

Floppy

@Floppy - about 6 years ago

Post-indyref, we need to revisit this and #63 in the light of the federalist idea now laid out in http://openpolitics.org.uk/manifesto/democracy.html#devolution. Anyone volunteer to bring it all together?

PaulJRobinson

@PaulJRobinson - about 6 years ago

Yeah I'm up for that

— Sent from Mailbox

On Mon, Oct 6, 2014 at 9:44 AM, James Smith [email protected] wrote:

Post-indyref, we need to revisit this and #63 in the light of the federalist idea now laid out in http://openpolitics.org.uk/manifesto/democracy.html#devolution. Anyone volunteer to bring it all together?

Reply to this email directly or view it on GitHub: https://github.com/openpolitics/manifesto/pull/74#issuecomment-57989056

digitalWestie

@digitalWestie - about 6 years ago

Ahah, here's the debate I was looking for, I had put some thoughts + proposal in (#228) but since this is where the action is, I will just leave some findings from my research over the past few months:

Size of local authorities in England vary massively, however many unitary authorities measure between 150,000 to 300,000. In Scotland the average is 165,000. The European average sits at 20,000. When it comes to physical scale, the average size of an authority in Scotland is 45x the size of an equivalent body in Europe (COSLA Report: http://www.localdemocracy.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Final-Report-August-2014.pdf). Much the same is probably true of rural local authorities in England and Wales. The conclusions of the COSLA report in Scotland (where community councils have fewer powers than parish councils) the verdict is quite clear, the system is too centralised.

Crack open the HoC's 2009 report on central and local government in England and the story isn't much different:

"The relationship between central and local government in England deviates from the European norm in at least three areas—the level of constitutional protection, the level of financial autonomy, and the level of central government intervention. All serve to tilt the balance of power towards the centre."

The constitutional mention there surprised me, but turns out- that local democracy in the UK is almost unique amongst western democracies because it has no status or protection in law and its institutions are wholly subject to the will of Parliament.

If we follow the principle of subsidiarity, there are good reasons for us to push for a whole lot more local power across the UK. There are plenty of models in the rest of Europe that we can look to.

Consider in Sweden the first £30,000 of income tax goes to your local authority and there are 290 of them in a country of just under 10 million (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MunicipalitiesofSweden). To put that into perspective, that's the sort of responsibility being proposed for the Scottish Parliament. Municipalities are responsible for a broad range of facilities and services including housing, roads, water supply and waste-water processing, schools, public welfare, elderly care and childcare (https://sweden.se/society/the-swedish-system-of-government/). This isn't far different from the powers held by our unitary authorities (155 in England and Wales). The 90 municipalities of Denmark have substantial revenue raising powers—60% of total revenue comes from local taxes.

Anyway, this 'comment' is getting a bit long. I'll add one last extract from that HoC report:

"Across a whole swathe of issues with a strong local dimension, including health, education, housing, planning, and regeneration, post-war governments of whatever political hue have wholly or partly taken responsibility away from local government. Appointed bodies (“quangos”) have proliferated and they, schools, non-governmental agencies and private companies have all come to have a part in the delivery of public services."

Local government should be about empowering communities and not managing them in absentia. There's been a lot of talk about city regions, transport, & other services that are managed on scale. However, in the context of this manifesto we're proposing devolved regional structures. These assemblies could handle these concerns while we focus on ideas on how to reinvigorate local decision making. With power and responsibility on the local level I can bet you our turnout rates wouldn't be in the abysmal 29~38% range.

tmtmtmtm

@tmtmtmtm - about 6 years ago

Consider in Sweden the first £30,000 of income tax goes to your local authority

Municipalities in Estonia are also funded as a share of the income tax of their residents. This leads to some interesting rivalry between them at times. A significant example recently is in Tallinn, which introduced free public transport, but only for registered city residents. One of the keys ways in which this was funded was by the increased tax receipts from people who physically lived in the city, but who had never changed their address officially and were thus funding some other municipality. And, indeed, in the first year, over 10,000 additional people “moved” to the city.

The Finnish system works effectively the same way, although the implementation is quite different. In particular, each of the 320 municipalities sets their own rates of income tax for residents, such that your tax rate will vary based on where you live (between about 16%-21%). This is all collected at source, and in my experience many people don't know what their local rate is, and I've talked to several people who didn't even know that this was how the system worked.

digitalWestie

@digitalWestie - about 6 years ago

Good details to keep in mind. I wouldn't advocate setting income tax rates at a local level, that's probably better reserved as a combo of devolved assemblies & central government.

As for the Estonian example, that's where I see 'regional' and 'local' conflicting. It's clear there's an understanding that emergency services / transport should be co-ordinated on a wider level. In respect to this, I quite like the way Italy is divided:

Regions > Provinces (or counties) > 'Comuni' or municipalities

This example shows the Lazio region, which is decided into 5 provinces, each named after a provincial capital: http://www.pv-magazine.com/fileadmin/uploads/bilder/pviBilderfurNachrichten/LazioregionItalyImageWikipediaMortadelo2005.jpg

Roughly speaking, if we did something similar we'd probably end up with bodies that have populations a bit like this:

Devolved administration: approx. 5~10m Greater city area/county: approx. 700,00~1.4m Council/unitary authority: approx. 20,000~50,000

On 9 October 2014 05:28, Tony Bowden [email protected] wrote:

Consider in Sweden the first £30,000 of income tax goes to your local authority

Municipalities in Estonia are also funded as a share of the income tax of their residents. This leads to some interesting rivalry between them at times. A significant example recently is in Tallinn, which introduced free public transport, but only for registered city residents. One of the keys ways in which this was funded was by the increased tax receipts from people who physically lived in the city, but who had never changed their address officially and were thus funding some other municipality. And, indeed, in the first year, over 10,000 additional people “moved” to the city.

The Finnish system works effectively the same way, although the implementation is quite different. In particular, each of the 320 municipalities https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MunicipalitiesofFinland sets their own rates of income tax for residents, such that your tax rate will vary based on where you live (between about 16%-21%). This is all collected at source, and in my experience many people don't know what their local rate is, and I've talked to several people who didn't even know that this was how the system worked.

— Reply to this email directly or view it on GitHub https://github.com/openpolitics/manifesto/pull/74#issuecomment-58462042.

Floppy

@Floppy - over 5 years ago

@philipjohn do you want to pursue this, or shall we let it die off (possibly to be replaced by a new version of course)?

Floppy

@Floppy - over 5 years ago

Actually, even if we bring the ideas back, it's worth doing in a few separate edits, to make it easier to pass...

philipjohn

@philipjohn - over 5 years ago

Smaller, smaller, smaller