The British government is releasing a white paper on local government reforms in England.
The white paper from Ruth Kelly’s department will pledge more powers to local authorities in return for new rules imposing elected mayors and giving the electorate the right to challenge their local authorities.
Lord Bruce-Lockhart, a Conservative peer, said “It is time for Whitehall to decentralise, devolve and deregulate to set people free of bureaucracy and improve the lives of millions of people”. I agree but this isn’t devolution, it’s tokenism – the only devolution we need is to an English Parliament so we can tackle the real problems facing England such as the Barnett Formula, the denial of medical treatments on the basis of cost and the interference in English matters of foreign MP’s.
But back on the subject of this white paper, it could be a good move provided that this is only about localisation and not an attempt to sell localisation as the answer to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. Local authorities are loose cannons – when they deign to hold public consultation they are merely paying lip service, the decisions have usually been made and often the wheels set in motion before the consultation. For example, consultation has been promised in Telford for the City Region. The decision was made months ago to join it, the council has committed itself to the City Region, their strategies are all centred on the City Region – and this is before the public consultation exercise. Hopefully this change in local government will enable people to bring rogue local authorities to account but my guess is that they will continue to be free to do what they want as long as they’re following party policy.