I see Eric Pickles has once again decided to jump in to the middle of an issue, without explaining how the situation came about in the first place. Pickles was probably suffering withdrawal symptoms, having not seen his name in a newspaper headline for at least a week, so has decided to criticise local government for something imposed on it by central government.
This week’s issue has the catchy title equality and diversity. Pickles’s predecessors in government, decided that it needed to ensure that everybody and his dog was being given access to local government services, so came up with the E&Q Police. This meant that every time central government’s auditors appeared on the council’s doorstep to inspect one of its services, one of the tick boxes was about E&Q performance. If they didn’t think the council was performing to the required standard in this area, then it didn’t matter how good the service itself was, you still took a hit on equality and diversity.
The problem was, how does a council prove that it is meeting the government imposed E&Q targets, without asking the questions now being criticised by Eric Pickles? So instead of criticising councils for simply trying to meet targets imposed by his predecessors, why doesn’t he just announce that central government will no longer require this information and therefore councils can stop collecting it? Because that wouldn’t get him any newspaper headlines would it. It also seem that Pickles thinks that he isn’t doing his job properly unless he is beating up local government at every opportunity.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which must cut spending by £35.6 million, faces a high court battle with disability campaigners who claims cuts to charities have been ‘discriminatory’ and ‘rushed through’. I wonder how much of the taxpayer’s money this council will have to waste defending this case?
Charities and the voluntary sector in general need to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds them when it comes to challenging councils on how they spend their discretionary budgets. Unless they can prove that the proposed withdrawal of funding is just a case of rearranging the furniture and that the council will have to pick up the tab in another way, they should accept that this is just one of a number of incredibly difficult decisions councils are having to make.
The logical fallout from this type of action, is that all councils will build in to their future charity contributions something akin to a prenuptial agreement. The agreement would say that, should the council decide to cease funding the organisation for any reason, there can be no legal challenge. If the charity or voluntary organisation is unwilling to sign up to any such agreement, then they can go whistle!
To quote from the Local Government Chronicle on-line:
“Tough talk from ministers and councils on evicting those found to be involved in rioting from social homes is unlikely to be realised in practice, legal experts have said.
Councils across the country have threatened to evict tenants found guilty of involvement in the rioting over the past week. However legal experts have said there remain a number of obstacles to evictions and that the tough talk from councils and ministers was unlikely to lead to a slew of evictions due to legal barriers and the cost of pursuing evictions, which can be over £20,000 per case.
Emma Salvatore, a legal executive at Trowers & Hamlin, said government proposals to allow rioters to be evicted regardless of where they committed anti-social behaviour would require statutory legislation, which will take time, and that the offence would still need to be indictable, so heard in a crown rather than magistrates court.”
The politicians need to stop sound biting and headline grabbing, figure out what they can actually do to sort things out and stop telling others – the police, the courts – how to do their job.
I see from today’s Sunday Telegraph that parish and town councils are going to be encouraged to take on more local services as a way of forcing sorry, encouraging, the cause of Localism and the ‘Big Society’.
No problem with that as a concept, given that the cost of running many of the basic services that people value, is often inflated by the management structure of the organisation that runs the service, but without adding any real value to it.
Unfortunately, what is likely to happen is that, as these grassroots organisations gain more and more power, they are going to turn in to the ‘bureacratic monsters’ they were supposed to be replacing. Those little parish councils currently run by a part time clerk, who probably works for one or even two other parish councils, will suddenly find there’s a need for both a full time clerk, a book keeper or accountant, somebody who has some legal training, an HR expert just in case they get problems with employment law, an elf and safety expert, etc, etc.
Parish and town councils at present are not answerable to anybody, other than their voters, for excessive increases in their precept (their version of the council tax) unlike district councils, that can be capped and forced to re-bill by central government. So the next stage in this charade will be the need to introduce legislation requiring parish and town councils to submit balanced budgets and within government limits – how long before the first parish or town council kicks out their parish clerk and appoints a high paid chief executive? Before you know it you’ll be back where we are today, just using different names for it!
There’s an advertisement running in cinemas at the moment, for Orange mobile phones, that has relevance to the way I’m seeing my politics at the moment. The advert has an animated parrot in it that starts off blue and is then turned orange by the off screen voice that’s controlling things.
My emerging association with this piece of imagery comes about because of statements from ‘call me Dave’, about how he’s going to revolutionise local government (for revolutionise read, kick the guts out of it) and the words of caution from Nick Clegg in today’s Daily Telegraph.
In other words, my Tory blue, whilst not quite turning into LibDem orange, is definitely feeling a bit on the pale side at the moment. Nick Clegg has gone on the record today, saying about Dave’s latest idea for privatised policing, “Replacing a public monopoly with a private monopoly achieves nothing but reduced accountability” – I wish I’d said that. All that education hasn’t been wasted after all. Seriously and somewhat annoyingly, I find myself in agreement with Nick Clegg’s views on this, hence my colour clash.
It may seem somewhat simplistic on my part, but I still cannot see how a shift from an organisation that only has one goal – delivering services, to one that has making a profit by delivering public services, is a sound way forward. As Gordon Brown once said, I agree with Nick!