Paul V Greenall: Time for a Local Government Review?
Paul has been a Conservative member of West Lancashire District Council since 2001. He is a Psychologist at Liverpool University and is presently researching the evacuation experiences of those who escaped from the World Trade Centre in New York on 9/11.
When the Northeast rejected Regional Government, they did us all a tremendous favour. However, deep inside Labour’s regional plans was an idea that Conservatives should embrace. Although controversial for some, I am talking about abolishing the two-tier system of Local Government.
Within Lancashire there are 12 District/Borough Councils, two Unitary Councils and a County Council. Between them, these Authorities elect approximately 768 councillors. This means there are more elected politicians governing Lancashire, than MPs in Westminster governing the entire United Kingdom! If for argument sake, we assume they each receive my basic annual allowance of £4,610, then before a child is educated, a bin is emptied or a street cleaned, Lancastrians have to fork out from their council tax, an unbelievable £3.5 million just to pay for the dubious privilege of having all these politicians. Of course, this cost will be dwarfed by the expense of running these 15 administrations, each with their own highly paid Chief Executives and associated Management Teams, not to mention all the policies, procedures, protocols, guidelines and enormously thick Constitutions, they doubtless churn out and constantly amend. However, it gets worse, for along with all of these Authorities, Lancashire also has a phenomenal 208 – yes, 208 Parish/Town Councils, all of whom apparently employ their own clerks, albeit mostly on a part-time basis.
If Lancashire’s Local Government model is replicated across the rest of England’s Shires, then there must be literally thousands upon thousands of councillors and bureaucrats running our local services. The cost and potential for efficiency savings must be staggering. And they tell me there is no money to fund a pedestrian crossing in my village…!
The expense of the two-tier system and the potential savings from abolishing it was illustrated by the Boundary Committee review, which Lancashire was subjected to as part of Labour’s regional plans. For example, the Boundary Committee calculated the costs of a single unitary Lancashire County Council ‘being in business’ with all Districts/Boroughs abolished, would be approximately £25.9 million less than the present set up. With Lancashire divided into 5 Unitaries, the cost of ‘being in business’ would be £12.7 million less than the present set up. Even next door in Cumbria the Boundary Committee forecast a saving of £8.5 million if the existing County Council became Unitary and the 6 District Councils beneath it were abolished. If these calculations are correct, then the savings of Unitaries being spread across the rest of two-tier England must, like I say, be staggering.
Having a system of Local Government in which, as happens in parts of my District, electors are represented by at least five local councillors on three different councils (i.e. 1 County Cllr., 3 District Cllrs., and 1 Parish Cllr.), is nothing short of local governance gone mad. Further, it can be very confusing with new and old councillors alike periodically asking: “is this a District or County matter”. So today and fed up with the glazed look I used to get from my constituents when trying to explain that the matter they have contacted me over is, in fact, a County matter which will need to be referred to their County Councillor, I now just deal with it myself. And I bet you there are plenty of other District, Borough or County Councillors out there who do the same.
In a recent article in my local press, my Council’s Chief Executive said: “there are very few people who believe the current two-tier system of Local Government will still be around in 50 years time”. Given the unacceptable waste of public money, which this antiquated system entails, if we have to wait anything like that long, it will be a disgrace. After all, regardless of what the political ‘anoraks and geeks’ would have us believe, in the real world nobody needs more than one local councillor and we certainly do not need more than one Local Authority to provide our local services. So, mindful that in saying this I shall probably make more enemies than friends, nonetheless its time for our archaic system of Local Government to be brought, or if need be dragged kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. Unfortunately, despite expectations, New Labour's recent Local Government White Paper has failed to seriously tackle this issue, so it will be up to us when we are next in power.