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“The decline of local democracy”

  • by JW

“Any rejuvenation of British society requires a re-empowerment of local government which should again be given adequate resources to act on their own initiative.” [Patrick Cockburn]


How important is our local MP? News | Simon Jupp MP

There will be a change in constituency for the next general election from ‘East Devon’: New ‘Honiton and Sidmouth’ constituency among final Boundary Commission proposals | Local News | News | Sidmouth Nub News

How important are our local councils? News – East Devon

Well, the leader of the District Council has been concerned about the effect of a report coming to Devon County on people in East Devon: Last full meeting of East Devon District Council before elections | Sidmouth Herald

Patrick Cockburn, the veteran reporter at the Independent and i-news, thinks that MPs actually don’t have much effect on our lives, whereas councils do – and yet local government has had so many of its powers taken away that many people are left stranded…

I have an interest in who is my MP, though this does not affect me personally in any way. But, despite all the talk about the limited power and resources of the local council, I am greatly affected by what they do or fail to do...

“Throw the rascals out,” has always been a good democratic slogan, so evicting those too long in power – as has just happened across Tory heartlands in southern and eastern England – brings some immediate benefits. But it will not reverse the decline of local democracy that had been a feature of British political life for half a century. Town halls, which once had great financial resources and attracted able people to lead them, saw their authority shrivel by the decade. Almost forgotten is the era when they were a dynamic and pioneering part of British government. When Canterbury was badly blitzed in the war, material damage was heavy but the number killed and injured low because of elaborate safety measures taken by the city council of the day.

Nothing so complicated could be done now because councils are under-resourced and over-controlled by central government. Yet, even though councils can do less than they once did, they can still do something – and that something can make a crucial difference for those who have tipped into poverty. This is all the more dire because it is basic foodstuffs like rice and pasta that have risen most in price.

The diminution of council services affect the poorest people in Canterbury in many strange ways. In one deprived estate in Thanington to the west of the city, for instance, there has long been an infestation of rats. Paula Spencer, who runs the local community centre, says: “when I was younger, I would have called the Council to send somebody to deal with the rats, but they no longer provide services like that. The only way to get rid of the rats is to hire a private company, but doing that is too expensive for people here.”

The local welfare system is crumbing or has already collapsed. Spencer says that in Thanington, many people now pull out their own teeth, because they cannot find an NHS dentist. According to a report published this year called “Poverty in Canterbury Today”, “schools and churches find themselves picking up the sorts of problems which in the past were dealt with by health, welfare and child care services.” A teacher is quoted in it as saying there is a four-year report to access the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

Any rejuvenation of British society requires a re-empowerment of local government which should again be given adequate resources to act on their own initiative and as an effective agent of central government. Despite the rhetoric of politicians about devolving authority away from the centre, their Westminster-orientated response to the local elections shows that they are not serious about handing over real power to anybody.

In Canterbury it’s clear: throwing the Tories out will not reverse the decline of local democracy

So, on the one hand, local government is under great stress: Local government finances: running out of cash – Vision Group for Sidmouth

On the other, there might be a ‘re-empowerment of local government’: Flatpack democracy: a new kind of ultra-local government – Vision Group for Sidmouth and Local Electricity Bill: “key to unblocking community energy” – Vision Group for Sidmouth and Levelling up rural: how to fairly allocate government funding – Vision Group for Sidmouth