The Government is ecstatic. Employment figures are high, unemployment is decreasing. Economists have been scratching their heads, seeking an explanation as to how this can possibly be the case when we are still suffering the after- effects of a bad recession. For the Government, there is no question that things are ticketyboo, and so concern about employment may be assigned to the back burner.
I don’t go along with this complacent attitude. More …
Given that so few people vote in local elections, one would probably be correct in assuming that many people don’t really care all that much about councillors. So when a proposal is made to reduce the number of councillors – as it was in our manifesto for the county council elections in May – the idea should be based on the notion of re-engagement with the electorate and of creating a structure which is transparent, accountable and responsive.
Sadly, in this Conservative dominated area, Labour did not secure enough support for our candidates for us to be in a strong position to push through our proposals, which were based on getting rid of the wasteful two-tier system of local government in North Yorkshire, and thus removing 72 councillors at the county level. Instead, what we face now is a purely cost cutting exercise in reducing the number of councillors at the district level. Some district councils in the region have already embarked on this course, and now Scarborough Borough Council is joining the club. A review has been set in motion to see whether the council really needs 50 members.
Like so much of the cost cutting agenda, this review is unlikely to look at the systemic waste of the two tier system, but will take a purely parochial path. I predict it will recommend a council size of about 40, if what has happened in other authorities is anything to go by. Any proposals will have to be approved by the Boundary Commission, so the outcome may not be known for a year or two.
Is this cost cutting agenda an attack on local democracy? Are we actually over represented now? The fact that these changes are being proposed purely to save money makes me suspicious – when the Conservatives have agreed amongst themselves to leave the two tier system alone. They are not looking at making a better system, but instead have chosen to accept the Coalition Government’s line that local councils are bloated, bureaucratic and inefficient. They talk of ‘localism’ but at the same time engender a view of local democracy which seeks to diminish it. This is in sync with the Government’s capping of council tax and the ‘localisation’ of government funding (e.g. for council tax benefits) when what is really delivered is another mechanism for cuts.
Will there be a proper debate about this? Or is it in effect an already done deal? Who will be consulted? What is the case?