The sad state of lo­cal gov­ern­ment in Eng­land

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters -

Bravo, John Har­ris (The na­tional calamity you won’t see on the front pages, Jour­nal, 10 June). Only Har­ris, Amelia Gen­tle­man, Si­mon Jenk­ins and the Guardian care about the dec­i­ma­tion of lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

Ask a friend what lo­cal gov­ern­ment does and you will be met with blank stares or mur­mur­ings about too many pot­holes, no money for Aun­tie Mary’s care or that the li­brary has closed. That is the re­al­ity of aus­ter­ity, but it also re­flects the woe­ful ef­forts of lo­cal gov­ern­ment lead­ers to make the case na­tion­ally for lo­cal ser­vices.

As Har­ris vividly il­lus­trates, lo­cal gov­ern­ment lead­ers con­tinue to sim­ply com­plain about fund­ing in their own ar­eas. The re­al­ity is that peo­ple in Bris­tol are not in­ter­ested in Tor­bay’s prob­lems, ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als are not in­ter­ested in pot­holes, and Labour coun­cil­lors’ ar­eas are not in­ter­ested in their Tory col­leagues’ needs; and vice versa. Lo­cal gov­ern­ment di­vides it­self, so it is eas­ily ruled by the cen­tre. Lo­cal gov­ern­ment lead­ers must im­prove their na­tional PR and ex­plain to the pub­lic what is happening be­fore it is too late.

Jonathan Har­ris

Direc­tor of ed­u­ca­tion, Corn­wall county coun­cil 1994-2002

John Har­ris is spot-on in char­ac­ter­is­ing the grad­ual sac­ri­fice of lo­cal gov­ern­ment on the al­tar of aus­ter­ity as a na­tional calamity. How­ever, his sug­ges­tion that fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence for coun­cils could be based on a “de­cent share of in­come tax” is a non se­quitur, for there will be no in­de­pen­dence to be had there, nor any lo­cal ac­count­abil­ity. Far bet­ter to re­form coun­cil tax by up­dat­ing its lu­di­crously out­dated 1991 value base and re­cal­i­brat­ing val­u­a­tion bands to

ad­dress the deeply re­gres­sive na­ture of this tax. The gov­ern­ment will never al­low fully au­ton­o­mous lo­cal tax­a­tion and I sus­pect lim­i­ta­tion of in­creases is here to stay but at least such re­forms would pro­vide a greater mea­sure of fair­ness and in­de­pen­dence.

Michael Clay­ton

Em­neth, Nor­folk

Re John Har­ris’s ar­ti­cle, White­hall clings to cen­tralised power for rea­sons deeper than the men­dac­ity of Tory aus­ter­ity. Eng­land is the only part of the union now run by the UK gov­ern­ment. Ques­tion White­hall’s cen­tral­ism and you ques­tion the very hold of the UK gov­ern­ment over Eng­land. Eng­land needs de­vo­lu­tion – not least to give its poor­est com­mu­ni­ties the rel­a­tive fi­nan­cial pro­tec­tion that the Bar­nett for­mula gives to Wales, Scot­land and North­ern Ire­land – but that will only be suc­cess­fully de­signed within Eng­land, by English lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, by English civic so­ci­ety and by English MPs.

Prof John Den­ham

Direc­tor, Cen­tre for English Iden­tity and Pol­i­tics, Univer­sity of Winch­ester

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