adrian cadbury 2Reading several ‘devolutionary’ articles highlighted in the Brummie aggregator site has prompted a reader to recall a 2002 address at the Birmingham and Midland Institute, given by Sir Adrian Cadbury at the first meeting of the Thomas Attwood Group.

After saying that he shared Attwood’s belief that decisions need to be taken as near as possible to where their impact would be made, Adrian Cadbury recalled the findings of the Aston Democracy Commission, which he chaired.

The Aston Commission worked for two years seeking to find ways of promoting inner city regeneration in the ward – with consultation undertaken from the ‘bottom up’ rather than from the ‘top down’. It came to reflect Thomas Attwood’s belief that Birmingham people could manage the city’s affairs better than a London-based government.

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In an electorate generally perceived as being apathetic because of the low level of voting, a lively concern was expressed about the poor delivery of municipal services such as waste disposal, street cleaning and policing. The Commission found that the low voting rates reflect realistic attitudes rather than apathy. Voters believed that in all likelihood their vote would make no difference to the quality of the service they were getting.

Part of the remedy for this, Adrian Cadbury felt, would be to change the current situation in which central government has assumed control of 80% of the city’s budget, determining not only its size but the precise disposition of these funds, leaving little scope for local government.

He believes that Westminster ought to loosen its grip on spending and decision-making, and local government to devolve decision-making to those closest to the issues. Another important aspect of restoring an active democracy, he said, was to build up the capacities of local people to make decisions.

European precedents were touched on, including the devolutionary steps taken by the French thirty years ago. A passing reference was made to the extent of the responsibilities exercised by the mayors of Lille and Barcelona. Adrian Cadbury ended by saying that constitutional means must be found to reverse centralism – one being the move toward regional government: “We all have a responsibility to encourage this and say that we shall place our votes with those supporting such policies”.

Earlier this month, a poll commissioned by the BBC suggested some 80% of people in England supported having more powers devolved to local areas. Now, it is reported that the leaders of 119 English councils – 65 controlled by Labour, 40 by Conservatives and 10 by Liberal Democrats – have called on Chancellor Osborne, to use Wednesday’s Autumn Statement to outline a “new settlement for England” which devolves power from Westminster and shares tax and spending across the UK “on a fair basis”.

The most recent Brummie lead on devolution was to an article on the Chamberlain Forum website by Paul (Dale?), which warned:

“We need to agree whether we talking about devolution that will tip cities over into being almost entirely the agents of central government, or the kind of devolution that will reverse that trend and give rise to a new sort of accountable municipalism and vigour based on an increased proportion of the money which pays for government as a whole being collected locally”.