Archives for posts with tag: Local government

 “The West Midlands is beginning to get its act together under its new metro mayor”: Will Hutton Observer 18th February

George Morran, Director of the West Midlands Constitutional Convention and former Assistant Chief Executive of Dudley Metropolitan. Borough Council, comments: “Will Hutton’s praise for the West Midlands elected mayor and the Midlands Engine is misplaced”. He continues: “The mayor is constantly seeking publicity for policy developments for which he has no or limited responsibility. His budget proposals have not been supported and his capacity to make any real difference is compromised by the WM Combined Authority and District Councils”.

Deborah Cadman, the new Chief Executive of the West Midlands Combined Authority, appears to have similar misgivings “I can’t deliver the half a million new jobs we are trying to do and that massive investment. I can’t do that directly, I have to do that through local government.” (WMCA)

Morran points out that, despite so called devolution deals, the real power remains with Government Ministers and Whitehall:

“The Mayor’s democratic accountability is very questionable given that his election was based on a very low turnout, combined with the media and business support. The geographical focus of the West Midlands Mayor and Combined Authority is an area which divides the West Midlands Metro from the adjoining shires, urban and rural, town and country which together make up the West Midlands Economic Region.

“The “Midlands Engine” is as important a symbolic rallying cry as the “northern powerhouse” but it is a totally anonymous entity. It lacks any local or regional democratic accountability. It is totally dependent on Government, Whitehall and big business. It does not reflect the very different traditions, economic and political focus of the West and the East. Its focus does make life simpler for Whitehall than having to deal with two regions. What we need is a focus on the local and the region rather than what suits Whitehall. We need radical reform as part of a new constitutional settlement for the West Midlands and the other English regions. This settlement must focus on improving economic prosperity, the wellbeing of residents, business, civic society and democratic representative government in the West Midlands and the other Regions.

“This new settlement must include the transfer of real power and democratically accountable government from London to the local and the region; the downsizing and refocusing of Westminster and Whitehall. The new local has to be really local and not based on the existing large local authorities imposed on us in the past by Westminster and Whitehall.” 

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive, Centre for Cities, focuses on the limited powers and resources at the metro mayors’ disposal:

“As highlighted in the recent international mayoral summit organised by Centre for Cities (in partnership with Citi and Boston University’s Initiative on Cities), England’s mayors are highly constrained in their control over local tax revenue and how it is spent compared to their counterparts in other countries. They have also faced delays in gaining the powers already promised to them by the government in their initial devolution deals. For example, Street has criticised the Department for Education for postponing the devolution of the adult education budget to the mayors, a key policy area they need control of to improve the economic performance of their city regions”.

Richard Hatcher (BATC) is campaigning for the reform of the WMCA based on the following three principles:

  • A critical challenge to the claims for the economic strategy of the WMCA, and for an alternative primed by government investment and based on meeting social priorities and the promotion of the green economy.
  • Defence and improvement of public services, the protection and improvement of jobs and conditions and the involvement of workers and service users in policy decisions.
  • A radical democratisation of the WMCA with the full participation of citizens, communities and employees at every level of policy making and implementation so that it is genuinely democratically accountable.

As George Morran wrote last year: The needs of the West Midlands and the other English Regions will only be realised if there is a real transfer of power and elected representation from Westminster to the regions and a far more localised local government underpinned by a more proportional voting system to ensure cross party and geographical support.

 

 

 

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The three commentators looked at essentials, unimpressed by the headlines focussing on Jamie Oliver, the Budget’s impact on Irn Bru – or Jeremy Corbyn’s clothing. Pandering to the latter obsession we note Jeremy outshining Boris (below).

corbyn boris shake hands

The FT’s political editor, George Parker, describes the Budget as ‘a compendium of grim economic news deteriorating growth, bad productivity numbers and confirmation that the Chancellor had broken two of the three fiscal rules he set himself in July last year’.

Steve Beauchampé refers to George Osborne having given ‘the usual illusory and diversionary (think sugar tax) performance’ and George Parker recounts a list of policies ‘corralled’ by Mr Osborne to improve children’s education and help them save for a home or a pension and salutes “the sheer political appeal of a tax to tackle childhood obesity — with some of the revenues being spent on school sport”.

David Bailey in the Post draws on forecasts and data from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in measured language, to chilling effect: “Robert Chote, the OBR’s director, succinctly noted that for every pound the chancellor found down the back of the sofa in November, he has lost two pounds this time. So borrowing will be higher than Osborne hoped for”.

Beauchampé highlights George Osborne’s selective use of ‘economic data, financial contortions and highly politicised blames and claims’ – strategies attributed by Parker to Cameron ordering the presentation of a Budget that did not inflame Tory MPs or voters before the EU referendum, which the PM sees as “the only game in town”.

Beauchampé, however, sees the chancellor as being driven primarily by a more personal goal: “(The budget) was not primarily designed to address the current economic realities facing the lives of ordinary people or those issues identifiable for the future, but . . . to coincide with Osborne’s anticipated accession to the office of Prime Minister”.

He points out that, though specific measures for London, Manchester and Leeds were announced, there were no references to Birmingham and the West Midlands, commenting:

“Osborne’s much-vaunted devolution of powers from Westminster and Whitehall to the English regions is part of an ideology that sees the dismantling of traditional local government as essential. Riven with unnecessary politics, authority is transferred not to democratically accountable institutions representative of a cross-section of local society but to business focussed organisations and those whom the Chancellor hopes will be malleable individuals”.

After condemning as a wholly political choice the austerity Osborne has ‘so brutally placed’ on those at the bottom of society, to fund capital gains tax reductions and abandonment of the 50p top rate of income tax for those at or near the top, Beauchampé quotes Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘lambasting’ of Osborne’s record:

“The budget…is the culmination of six years of failures.

He’s failed on the budget deficit,

failed on debt,

failed on investment,

failed on productivity,

failed on the trade deficit,

failed on the welfare cap,

failed to tackle inequality”.

adrian2

Many obituaries are extolling the work of Sir Adrian Cadbury, who died on 3rd September 2015. In the FT details are given about his standing as “the pre-eminent British authority on corporate governance”; he had chaired the committee that produced the ‘pioneering Cadbury report’. Other points made were that he had been the longest-serving member of the Bank of England’s Court of Governors – and had rowed for England at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. This January he was made Companion of Honour in the Queen’s New Year Honours List.

Not mentioned:

aston business school

His connection with the University of Aston, which began in the 1950s, when it was a College of Advanced Technology. In his role at Cadburys, Sir Adrian forged links with the then Department of Industrial Administration (later Aston Business School, above) and following the receipt of its Charter in 1966, he joined the University Council. In 1979 he succeeded Lord Nelson as Chancellor, helping to steer Aston through difficult times in the 1980s when the sector was subjected to ‘disastrous’ funding cuts.

Another instance: years ago Sir Adrian Cadbury set up the Aston Democracy Commission to find out why so few people were voting in this area of high unemployment. The general response was that people had found that, once elected, politicians ignored their plight and so had decided voting was pointless.

One of the commission’s findings was that local people who wanted to set up or develop a small business could not get bank loans because they owned no assets. Banks and building societies had withdrawn from Aston because the amount of business being transacted did not warrant the expense of maintaining these branches. People were having recourse to money lenders who often charged exorbitantly high interest charges and to pawnbrokers.

art 2logoTo address this, he worked with Localisation West Midlands’ co-founder Pat Conaty, then working at the Birmingham Settlement, to set up the Aston Reinvestment Trust [ART]. This is a revolving ‘not for personal profit’ fund: when loans are repaid the money helps another business and profit is reinvested in the trust.

In a 2014 email he wrote: “It was my experience on the Aston Commission which led to the foundation of the Aston Investment Trust. I appreciated the absence of any source of finance in the area and while we could not help over crime and litter, we could fill a gap on financial advice and lending”. Over the years it has created or retained thousands of jobs in the city. He chaired ART for several years and continued as Life-President.

attwood 2 headerIn his inaugural address for the Thomas Attwood group at the BMI, he referred to that philanthropic politician: “Local people were involved in much of Attwood’s work for justice and democracy. He had, in fact, to contain and restrain their strongly expressed feelings from escalating into physical violence” adding that “As a ‘country’ banker Attwood would have felt some empathy with local people who brought forward the problems caused by the withdrawal of banks and building societies from Aston because the amount of business being transacted did not warrant the expense of maintaining these branches. People were having recourse to money lenders who often charged exorbitantly”.

TA site

In November 2006 he acted as a judge, with Solihull MP Lorely Burt and Alan Clawley (urban regeneration), to determine the Attwood Award that year. Local people has submitted alternative plans for the former Territorial site in Haslucks Green Rd, Shirley – now developed as “Parkgate”. The award was presented to Fred Carpenter, one of four finalists, who had received training in the air cadets (later based on that site) and had served in the RAF. Sir Adrian said that his practical plan for a well–designed continental style retirement development, accompanied by a “delightful map”, would be of benefit to the people and shopkeepers of Shirley.

The Aston Democracy Commission came to reflect Thomas Attwood’s belief that Birmingham people could manage the city’s affairs better than a London-based government (emphasis added)

Adrian Cadbury shared Attwood’s belief that decisions need to be taken as near as possible to where their impact would be made. The findings of the Aston Democracy Commission reflected Thomas Attwood’s belief that Birmingham people could manage the city’s affairs better than a London-based government.

Sir Adrian said that the fact that some independent candidates have been successful in recent mayoral elections indicated the unpopularity of party systems. The Commission had 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, he 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 believed that Westminster ought to loosen its grip on spending and decision-making and that local government should 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.

Adrian Cadbury added 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.

 

 

Simon Baddeley, whose experience and publications on local government, may be seen here, reflects – in his personal capacity – on this question.

“Osborne’s Budget clearly demonstrates how economic policy drives ideologically inspired policy objectives especially ‘rolling back’ local councils  – in the government’s eyes probably the least desired part of the public sector, lowest of the low.

“To ensure that Total Managed Expenditure (TME) is kept as low as possible, the so-called ‘unprotected’ services have been squeezed disproportionately hard and of course local government expenditure is a large part of the overall unprotected total expenditure.

“To bring public finance back into balance public expenditure has to fall from 45% of GDP to 38% – a massive drop, with no growth, or tax increases the only option is further cuts and in a disproportionate way which hits LAs hard.

“Whitehall has done better than LAs. If its TME overall had fallen at the rate of local councils then it would have dropped from £694 billion in 2010 to £632billion by 2014.

“In fact, Whitehall’s TME will have increased to £720billion”.

“If Whitehall had reduced its spending at the same rate as LAs, the public sector deficit would have been around £35billion. Instead the figure will be £120billion. This demonstrates the distorted relationship between Government and LAs and how our masters value, or not, the two so-called partners.

“Given the near non-existent LA tax base it is difficult to find much to be cheery about when looking at local democracy and how it can be put on a firmer footing (when we are all skidding down the hill !).

The new feudalism: the distorted relationship between Government and LAs

“If you want further proof of Government’s contempt of local democracy look no further than their response to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee:

  • ‘The Government is quite clear that councillors are and should be volunteers and does not wish to see any move towards professionalism through becoming full time’
  • Local councillors should ‘not qualify for extra allowances to make up for lost income’.

“Graham Sharp, the former housing minister and Tory party chairman likened calls for additional allowances to paying scout leaders for voluntary work. Councillors are also going to be banned from inclusion in LA Pension Schemes”.

Baddeley sees this response as blighting and diminishing the prospects of local leaders, noting that when councillors prove less than adequate, as now and again they do, they get the calumny and not the authors of the new feudalism – ministers and MPs with salaries, expenses and perks and final salary pension schemes.

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Local government – ‘the Budget’s great unloved’

We add relevant content from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy blog, by visiting professor and director of the Greater London group at the London School of Economics, Tony Travers. He writes:

“You wouldn’t know it from the headline figures, but local government, along with some other unprotected and unloved public services, looks likely to face at least 50 per cent spending cuts between 2011-12 and 2017-2018 . . .

“The government’s problem is that it wants to hold down Total Managed Expenditure (TME) but cannot control Annually Managed Expenditure (AME), which largely consists of welfare, tax credits and debt interest.  AME current expenditure will rise from £303 billion in 2010-11 to £414 billion in 2017-18 . . .

“Over the full period from 2012-13 to 2017-18, Departmental Expenditure Limits (DEL) mostly for local government, defence, the police, fire, transport, business services and justice, will face further cash spending reductions of 25% in the next four to five years. Annually managed expenditure (AME), by contrast, will grow substantially. . .

“It now seems likely that local government, along with some other un-ringfenced services, will face real terms reductions of at least 50 per cent in expenditure over the period 2011-12 to 2017-18 . . .

“An historic change is under way which will radically alter the shape of the British state”.