Posted tagged ‘Nottingham Council’

Councils are people too

March 1, 2012

Look at the size of my hand

Mitt Romney, a Republican candidate to become the next president of the United States has said, infamously, that ‘corporations are people too’ (a statement that has been magically lampooned in this campaign video).

If Mr Romney was British I wonder if he would also believe that ‘local authorities are people too’ and if so whether these “local authority people” would bear any resemblance to any other people we know?

On such a loose premise we present:

Birmingham Council as Sir Alex Ferguson

There are many councils but there is only one Birmingham Council and there are many managers but only one Sir Alex Ferguson. Striding like a giant amongst other local authorities Birmingham has a bigger budget than the European commission and a wider remit than almost any other local authority. Likewise, whereas Sir Alex Ferguson is just a football manager he is a manager who’s club has been in every major championship and who, if rumours are to be believed has a wider remit at his Manchester United than almost every other manager in the league.

Cornwall Council as Rick Stein

Whereas once there was a diversity of small local authorities in Cornwall it was viewed as more efficient for them all to be merged into one super unitary. I think Rick Stein would sympathise; I mean why have six fish restaurants when it is much better to have one unitary comprising of a restaurant, chip shop, hotel and bistro all in the same town.

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Are you a localist or a municipalist?

April 21, 2011

And you thought a post about localism and municipalism was dull!

On Newsnight last week, in between Gavin Estler and his research staff being skewered by Eric Pickles, Mr Pickles got into an interesting debate with the Deputy Leader of Nottingham council.

The Deputy Leader was arguing that the council should be allowed to NOT publish details of all expenses over £500 as it was a local decision. The implication was that by Mr Pickles demanding this of local authorities he was not being particularly localist.

Indeed, this is something we on this blog have often accused my Pickles of.

The response from Mr Pickles was fascinating. He didn’t make an argument based on the importance of open data but rather said something along the lines of: ‘Localism is not about giving power to councillors; it’s about passing power straight to the people’.

In effect Mr Pickles cast the deputy leader of Nottingham council as a municipalist, someone who believes power should sits with local government, rather than a localist who believes in giving power to local people.

This provided a good sound-bite and neatly quietened the deputy leader but I am deeply curious as to what the logical end point of this philosophy will actually be.

Firstly, if Mr Pickles is a true localist then what does that make him? Fair enough that Nottingham Council should not be all powerful but surely a localist would not want any interference from central Government at all? Or does Mr Pickles see himself as something akin to the guardian of localism; acting in the ‘best interest’ of the population who seem not to know better when they go to the ballot box?

Secondly, what role does this leave for local government? If central government is the guardian of localism does that make local government the enemy of localism? Surely, it makes more sense for the local councils to be the guardians of localism as they are closer to it?

Finally, what role does this leave for representative democracy? If localism does not mean elections and representation at the local level how are the actions of local people to gain legitimacy if not through elections? Surely, Mr Pickles can’t be the guardian of all localist ideas at a local level but if local government is not to provide legitimacy or to mediate between competing ideals then who will?

This all leaves local government with a massive challenge. If Mr Pickles is to be taken at face value then localism probably will not mean more powers for local government whilst also asking it to develop a new relationship with local people. If local government fails to meet that challenge would the end point be irrelevance?