The Localism Bill currently wending its way through Parliament seems yet another sticking plaster on sticking plaster exercise. It doesn’t deal with the funding system and it doesn’t address the overall ‘organisation chart’ for structuring public services governance and operational decision-making .
The Minister Eric Pickles, lays into local authorities for spending too much or paying people too much yet is in effect the Minister for weekly bin collections.
All main Parties profess decentralisation and “vibrant local democracy” but show a long history of failed attempts to de-regulate, cut red tape, “reduce the size of the State” and so on.
To this outside observer there are signs of lack of exposure to ways of thinking and doing things outside Westminster and Whitehall and party politics. There are other ‘disciplines’ and tools as well as politics and economics.
Many evolutionary and historical factors explain the tendency to centralise. They are mostly benign or embedded in human nature. Some are irreversible where globalisation and wider mobility, standardisation (eg clock-time), communications and technology transfer are drivers. A malign exception is the effect of creeping sovietisation from the EU. But It is entirely right and ‘good business’ to want individual democratic input and delegation of decision-making to the lowest possible level. For achievement and maintenance there must be a sense of designed architecture. This is Parliament’s business but the Ship of State lacks a Naval Architect and Chief Engineer .
Local Government” is a sort of party political second XI and as such managerially artificial. People are less tied to place and local authorities are not free-standing. For referenda on council tax does “local people” mean only council tax payers, who are in the minority, and in respect of which component ? Does “giving a say” mean informing, consulting, seeking advice, seeking feedback, asking for a choice between stated alternatives.? For effective practical application should not devolution of power be distinguished from delegation of responsibility ?
If Local Authorities are increasingly staffed up to meet government regulating influences it could also be said that over-staffing is due to being unsure about their objectives. Are they to ‘be’ or to ‘do’ ? A witnessed manifestation of this is the amount of introspective and self-indulgent activity that is carried out to show off to the Audit Commission. Add to this the tendency to ritualise procedures to a degree that obscures the main thought and purpose eg for risk analysis and equality and diversity.
There is a government culture characterised by political behaviour, legislation as an instrument, departmental ‘silo’ mentality, the rise of the quango ‘virus’, and protocols and arrangements generally. In fact what matters at the pithead and coalface is people DOing what has to be done.
There is little recognition that there is a delivery chain in government administration and public service. This in turn needs for completion a feedback loop (undeveloped in government) within a command and reporting structure.
It is suggested therefore that for a significantly smaller State without throwing the baby out with the bathwater there are these solutions:
1. Parliament must go for ‘world class’ financial control over government beyond just Treasury functions. (How is the business conducted without it ?)
2. Resources of people and money for legislating, regulating and policing must be capped at an arbitrary level well below the ‘ideal’ so as naturally to force greater prioritisation.
3. Allow upward precepting to present more directly to legislators and regulators, together with accounts, and budget consolidation, the consequences of their impositions.
Perhaps “Returning Power”, or empowerment, would follow more naturally given central reduction and disempowerment within a consciously designed architecture and non-interfering management philosophy. A necessary first step would be to set up at the top of national government, a Constitution Systems Architecture Department.