02 November 2007

From Rhetoric To Democracy

"To counter public cynicism about political institutions and low levels of turnout in elections, we have to find new ways to engage citizens in the political process. More devolution of power and the active involvement of local communities in decision-making are essential if we are to rebuild confidence in our democracy locally and nationally."
So says former Labour local government minister Nick Raynsford following the publication of a report by an informal grouping of peers and MPs known as the Chamberlain Group calling for central government to give local authorities more freedom to respond to local needs.

Coming a day after the Local Government Association demanded an extra £250m a year for councils to deal with the impact of migration on public services, the cross-party report says local councils should be given more freedom to run their budgets, perhaps including the ability to issue their own bonds (just as Mayor Ken Livingstone has been allowed to do in London to help fund investment in the city's transport network) or to take a share of national taxes such as income tax or vehicle excise duty.

Given that all three major political parties claim to believe in more localism, as one of the most centralised states in Europe, perhaps it is not unreasonable to hope that some of their rhetoric will now be translated into a genuine restoration of local democracy.