On Monday of this week the Lyons Inquiry into local government funding, which is also addressing the function of local government and its future role, published an interim report on the second part of its brief which was added in September of last year. In the report Sir Michael Lyons suggests that greater local choice rather than more central control is the answer. The key phrase in his document seems to be “local choice”. This sounds like the localism that the LibDems have long championed and the new localism the Conservatives are now increasingly seeing as the way forward too.
The report was covered in the Telegraph on Tuesday. The columnist Philip Johnston and the Telegraph’s headline writers put a business rates scare spin on the story but the real story is more local control for good or ill with post code lotteries abounding. The article ended on some comments from the new Communities and Local Government Department which said that there was no chance of Sir Michael’s recommendation being implemented – particularly after the Tory gains in the local elections. “We spent 10 years taking power off them. We are not going to give it back when they are all turning blue.”
The cynicism of our Labour government is naked. They prevaricate by putting the future of local government into the hands of an enquiry for two years, Prescott and Brown set up this inquiry in July 2004. When the answer comes back that councils would be more effective if they were free to raise their own income and spend it as they see fit the result gets binned. Prescott is history but Brown wants to keep his control of local government and his panoply of targets and silly little financial carrots are his chosen tools.
All councils, whatever their colour, need to start ignoring the centre and setting their own agenda. Both Lyons and Direct Democracy show them the way.
Coincidentally, on Monday Dara Singh, Ealing council’s chief executive, was briefing the councillors on the major strategic and corporate issues facing the council. It was not his fault that this talk was deeply tedious and had no relevance to the councillors present, let alone the people they represented. The talk simply described Brown’s sandpit, the small, bounded box the council is allowed to play in. Yawn, yawn.