Power to Local Authorities: the Pickles way
This blog has refrained from commenting too much on Central Government policy (although we did wade into the Audit Commission debate) of late; not least because many of the big changes are still to come.
However, Thursday’s DCLG publicity stunt cannot pass unmentioned. The Secretary of State Eric Pickles decided that of all the pressing things on his desk the most important issue to tackle on a quiet Thursday was that of… wait for it… road signs.
Under the headline: ‘Councils urged to remove unnecessary street signs’ Mr Pickles and Philip Hammond took a nice stroll around Oxford Circus in central London looking for unnecessary signs and gently patting inappropriate bollards. You can see the video here.
His argument, that unnecessary road signs, railings and advertising hoardings make streets untidy and can actually make areas less safe is possibly correct. Indeed, I am neither a road sign expert nor can I say that I care much about them. My problem with Mr Pickles is twofold:
1) Local Government is going through the most radical changes of at least the last two decades. Funding cuts, decentralisation and a massive overhaul of local authority powers are just the iceberg of important issues crossing Mr Pickles’ Desk. Surely, surely, he has better things to do than stroll around Oxford Street pointing at road signs. And, even if he doesn’t (it is August after all) why oh why does it require two Government Ministers poke the bollards?
2) Haven’t the coalition spent the past 100 days informing us that it is time for central government to basically butt out and leave local authorities to it? Apparently, local authorities should have the power and freedom to handle major issues without Government interference but can’t manage to deal satisfactorily with their own road signs without guidance from not one but two Government Ministers… Really???