There I knew that headline would get your attention! It’s true that I can with undue modesty claim that I am one of the most forthright critics of Ollie and Stanley but even I recognise that even a broken clock is right twice a day (old style clocks that is – not digital ones!)
It seems to me that in the cut and thrust of discussion about spending cuts and the CSR we have lost sight of much of what DCLG and other government departments are doing about localism and much of the other stuff is good.
On Thursday I presented evidence to the Bill committee looking at the Police Reform Bill. I don’t like Elected Police Commissioners but most of the rest of the Bill is sound with us dealing with details. The new Police Boards will be better than the current authorities; there is an understanding that the 2003 Act was wrong in thinking that it would, encourage social drinking – it just encourages more drinking; there is an understanding that the people who profit from excessive drinking should meet some of the costs of dealing with the problems thus created; there is a further move towards local people and local councils in deciding whether or not there should be a licence and on what terms.
But the real block buster coming through Parliament is the Localism Bill. It has become fashionable to deride the Bill for its length and the number of powers that are retained or newly created for the Secretary of State. Those criticisms are usually made by people who haven’t read the Bill at all. No I must admit I haven’t actually read it but I have read the explanation to it and have read the briefs provided by those who have read it! In summary I support about 80% of the Bill; like the direction but have concerns about the deliverability of 15% of the Bill and actively detest 5% of it (the elected mayors bit as if you didn’t know). That’s not bad. I doubt that the percentages would be that much different if it had been a Bill introduced by Mr Secretary Stunell…
- The Power of General competence;
- The fact that councils (apart from 12 of us) can choose their own governance structures;
- The abolition of the Standards Board;
- The increase in the power of local communities and their councillors to determine the future look of the area through localised planning mechanisms;
- The abolition of CAA (although I would not have abolished the Audit Commission)
- The community right to acquire ( although I think it will raise expectations of grant availability from local councils)
- The abolition of HIPs
I could go on but rather than please Mr Pickles too much let me give my fears about what will happen after the passing of this Bill. The fear is that councils will do too little – too late!
This Bill is the best one in my 28 years as a councillor in returning real powers back to councillors and their communities but there are two lots of people who might stop it working properly:
Officers. Officers will need to become better at advising on risk taking and become people who will tell you how things can be done not what stops them being done. For 10 years we have already had the powers of social, environmental and economic well being. That was almost a power of general competence but very little happened as a result of it. The reason? Chief Executives, chief legal officers and chief financial officers not being able to think out of the box. Too many of them played safe when opportunities were presented and failed to take advantage of new ways based on new powers. Every Chief Exec, finance officer and legal officer will need support and training if we are to move substantially forward as a result of the Act. If they aren’t prepared to be retrained they should be prepared to be dismissed.
Members. I am absolutely sure that at both ward and strategic level many councillors have not considered their new roles and if they did consider it I am certain they would not like it!
At ward level we are going to have to be much more involved in shaping activity and working with local people than many councillors are. It will not be our job to go to the council chamber or committee and whinge. It will be our job to problem solve in our communities and pull together activity of organisations, staff and residents in a very different ay. Three years ago Erica and I wrote a booklet about this – Cabinet Member for your Ward – which is available on the LGA Lib Dem website.
At strategic level Leaders, Cabinets and their opposition opposite numbers are going to have to think a lot more about public sector provision than council provision and about the shape of the area and not the shape of the council. We will still have power about what we control but we are increasingly expected to exercise influence over the public sector services that we do not control.
Again as with officers this will not happen by chance. All members will need to be trained and supported into new roles and culture change of this scale will not happen overnight.
Our experience in Liverpool is good and bad. Only last Wednesday I tabled two positive resolutions to Liverpool City Council about our new licensing and other powers. They were not debated as councillors chose to resort to the well know useful work of ‘knocking the s++t out of each other’ in public!
So m y offer to Eric and Co is this. Let’s stop the argy bargy, roll up our sleeves and roll out a culture change programme embracing local and central government. There that wasn’t too difficult to say and I didn’t even have my fingers crossed as I typed it! Please let’s make a success of this Bill and all it contains.