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Friday, December 23, 2005

 

How times change

... the City Council is everywhere and in everything. It supplies water, light and heat. It carries us about our business and watches over our health. It builds many of our houses and educates most of our children, and every year that passes it adds to its burden. Until 1835 it could not even raise a rate. The individual parishes alone had that power, and the only rate they could levy was the Poor Rate. But even after 1835 the powers of the corporation were very limited. Nearly all public services - roads, water, gas, for instance - were looked after by independent boards and companies, and the work of poor relief was in the hands of an entirely separate body, the Guardians of the Poor. Gradually they were all absorbed by the corporation, especially after the Public Health Act of 1875. Instead of having separate authorities, each supplying a particular service and collecting its own revenue, they were brought under one great authority which, through its different departments, supplied the various services, and by means of its financial department, collected the revenue. In 1907 the nineteen civil parishes were amalgamated into one civil parish of Lincoln, and in 1930 the last of the independent bodies, the Poor Law Guardians, was brought in. What a Colossus it is, this City Council! And how vitally necessary it is that we should see that it does its multifarious duties properly.
(From The Story of Lincoln by E I Abell and J D Chambers, a local history textbook commissioned by Lincoln's Education Committee for the city's schools and published in 1939).

The 1930s can be seen in retrospect as the high-water mark for local government in Britain. A footnote added to the revised 1949 edition of this book reads,

The City no longer supplies water, light and heat.
The 1945 Labour government is well-known for having nationalised many privately-owned industries. It is often forgotten that the same government also nationalised many local municipal services, such as water, gas, electricity and health.

The depredations did not end there. Lincoln was until 1974 a single-tier 'County Borough'. The Tories' 1972 Local Government Act turned the city into a second-tier district within the county of Lincolnshire and Lincoln lost control of its schools, roads and libraries. In the 1980s, much of the council housing was sold off and the corporation buses were privatised (now being run from an office in Barnsley instead of Lincoln).

Today, under New Labour, local government (or what little is left of it) - when it is not acting as an agent for the delivery of central government targets - is being stigmatised as "political control". Meanwhile, on Lincoln City Council's
website today, the leading "what's new" item is the news that the council has just spent £130,000 on the refurbishment of some public toilets.

Yes, the Leader of the Council of the City of Lincoln, the corporation of one of our country's most ancient cities, has been reduced to cutting the ribbon to open a new lavatory. What a Colossus it is, this City Council?

Joseph Chamberlain must be turning in his grave.

Comments:
How much is the public (and opposition politicians) to blame for this though? If the (national) government gets the blame every time a council cocks up (or decides not to offer a service), then of couse they are going to take more and more powers themselves. Can't imagine the mutton-chop-whiskered burghers of Victorian Lincoln troubling Mr Gladstone if their local schools had employed someone unsuitable or the roads weren't up to scratch. Tragically Lib Dems can be some of the worst at facing the consequences of real local decision making - that different councils may be offering different services because of a conscious choice rather than because of a 'postcode lottery'.

See also http://paulleake.org.uk/?p=70.
 
I would say that having a monolithic local authority is a bad thing as well as an impoverished one.
My experience of local government (in London) is of an autocratic local council for which 'listening' consists mainly of making a decision, sitting there whilst people complain and then doing it. It has little accountability to local people (especially in my part of the borough which tends to vote Tory whilst we have a Labour dominated council).
The council tries to grab all the power it can and does not want others to provide services, to the detriment of local people.

Local government needs to be accountable and democratic and also have limited scope. That which it does not have within its scope however is not a matter for national government but for other local organisations.

People do not feel they have a stake in local community and local politics any more than they do nationally, something which more power to local councils cannot do without radical reform
 
Part of the reason local government is so monolithic is its impoverishment. The media don't cover local government well as it doesn't have the powers to do anything exciting. Turnouts at elections are incredibly low and many potentially brilliant councillors won't get involved in something where it can be so hard to make a differences.
 
It seems that all parties are either ignoring or scared to face the problem if illegal immigration
in the United Kingdom. While most of undocumented immigrants are hiding and living in misery, J Reid and
L. Burn are pretending to be in control of the situation. This inertia is will only benefit scrupulous employers

So far we have been listening only to right wing parties and think tanks. That's the reason why I decided to
launch the survey at http://www.skillipedia.com to hear opinions from normal people. Once we get enough coverage
from the press we will be able to relay the result of the survey to the Home Office

You opinion is much appreciated
 
"My experience of local government (in London) is of an autocratic local council for which 'listening' consists mainly of making a decision, sitting there whilst people complain and then doing it."

Well I can confirm that such an attitude and approach is mirrored here in Derbyshire. Both on the city council and my borough council unpopular projects have been proposed, debated and derided by the public extensively, only to get the rubber stamp at the end of the "process".

One can't help but feel disillusioned when sinister quasi corporate-council entities hold more sway than the people who pay the taxes and fill the ballot boxes. It seems that these companies using the council "monopoly" on services develop projects across the country in an attempt to instigate "keeping up with the Jones's" attitude between rival towns and cities.

The only people ever to see the benefit from such hijinks are those who sit at the top of tower.
 
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