The Local Pachyderm

Local Government’s decisions often affect ordinary people’s lives on a very fundamental level. Sometimes, if you spend your time in the office, your house, or travelling between the two in a car or train shaped bubble, it might be possible to lose sight of that.


It’s one of the reasons I am strongly supportive of Councillors who live in the area they represent. I don’t think it’s the be all and end all of being a representative, or that it should be compulsory, but it would certainly be one factor for me as a voter.

At least Councillors, even those who live in a different part of the authority, have to get out and knock on doors and deliver leaflets, at election time even if not all year round. What sort of mechanisms do we use to link the experiences of residents into the knowledge and work of those council officers whose jobs don’t involve regularly getting out of the Town or County Hall?

Is it enough that they hear from Councillors and frontline staff, that they read the local paper, or that they are dragged out to some sort of local committee once an issue in their department has reached crisis point, or do we need something more? Suggestions welcome!

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19 responses to “The Local Pachyderm

  1. Pingback: Live-in Councillors? « Local Democracy

  2. What difference does it make. Labour have taken away any power from local areas all you basicly do is carry out central Labour policy.
    a local coucilloer was not allowed to vote ( against) a planned housing development in his ward because he lived their and it was declared he had an interest and could not vote.
    I think you need to step back and look at what has gone on. You are just an instrument of central government.

    • thelocalgovernmentofficer

      I’m not sure I disagree with you as much as you assume I do – see the earlier post where I talked about a hope that local government could truly become that, rather than merely local administration.

      That said, planning is a special case since if someone really does have an interest that stops them being objective, any decision the Council makes will be overturned by the Courts.

      More generally I’m not convinced it’s fair to say “Labour have taken away” – we didn’t exactly live in a paradise of freedom and flexibility for local Councils in April 1997 either!

  3. But the Councillor is voted in to represent the people of his ward. The local people did not want the development yet he was not allowed to vote because he lived in the area. This is just not fair, and is down to Labour who have allowed this to happen. They have set up other bodies to by pass local democracy just like a dictatorship does. You just cannot see what has gone on.
    Well come the next election all will change as Ms Spelman said
    Unelected Regional assemblies – abolish
    Select Committees for the English regions – abolish
    Regional housing quangos – abolish
    Regional planning quangos – abolish
    Regional spatial strategies and housing targets – abolish
    Targets and surveillance of Councils by Whitehall and regional government – abolish
    Many of the specific grants – abolish – to be replaced by general grant
    Council Tax capping – abolish

    What would happen if a Council performed badly? The electors have to sort it out by voting for a change. What would happen if a Council wished to put the tax up too much? They would need to win a vote to do it.

    • thelocalgovernmentofficer

      Councillors who “live in the area” are allowed to vote on planning applications – I’ve watched them do it! So there must be something more to it than that. Again, I’m not convinced this is a new thing, planning has been “quasi-judicial” (stupid term, but there we are) for as long as it’s been a Council function. Should it be more locally flexible, of course it should.

      But I’m just not convinced a lot of this that you claim for “after the next election” will happen. If it does, I’ll be pleasantly surprised, but consider;

      * Regional assemblies are being abolished next year anyway.
      * Government Offices for the Regions were set up in 1994. Hardly a Labour innovation.
      * Caroline Spelman on the radio the other day was challenged on why the Conservatives hadn’t given LG more power before 1997, her response “oh they were Labour then, they’re mostly run by us now so they can be trusted with it”. I’m paraphrasing, but not much. What happens when the inevitable swingback happens and the Government is Conservative and the Councils aren’t?

      Labour’s 1997 manifesto said they would abolish Council Tax Capping.

  4. Why are you so concerned to defend Labour. Is it because the provide more local government jobs for the boys. why have the number of civil servants doubled under Labour.
    We need urgent change.

    • thelocalgovernmentofficer

      If you’re going to abolish local targets, capping, etc, then the number of staff employed in local government will be up to Councils. They’re mostly Conservative, and they’ve been recruiting too.

      I’m concerned to defend accuracy, rather than any particular party – I’ve said I agree by and large with the Conservative proposals above, I just don’t really believe they are likely to happen!

      So, I don’t know about civil service numbers. There’s a paper here – http://www.civilservant.org.uk/numbers.pdf which suggests civil service numbers have risen from about 480,000 to about 500,000 since 1997, I’m not sure how that compares to the population as a whole.

      The chart on page 4 is a bit more interesting, and does show some significant growth, with NHS employment rising 30%, though only back to the levels of 1992, after which it appears to have been cut back (outsourcing of cleaning, maybe? More private clinics? I don’t know).

      Local Government looks to have grown 8% since 1997. Overall I’d argue that given our two biggest functions are education, and there have been lots more teachers to meet the government’s class sizes target, and older people’s care, and the number of old people is rising rapidly, that’s not an unreasonable increase.

  5. My local hospital is closed to visitors becasue of infections, More parents than ever have not got their children in the school of their choice, Councils are drawing lots yes lots to decide the school they go to, my bin is only emptied once a fortnight. My council tax has more than doubled in the last 8 years . Less decisions are now taken localy.The pay and pensions that the public sector now recieve is unsustainable.

    I have never seen my country is such a mess.

    • thelocalgovernmentofficer

      I’ve supported enough school appeals to know that beyond a certain point the system becomes effectively random already, but with an advantage to the insistent and articulate, whose children are the most likely to do well at any school.

      On Council tax, I’ve just done a post. School admissions and bin collection are decided locally, so I’m not sure you are being consistent. Out of interest, I have some sympathy for this but I’d be interested in the details – what sort of decisions do you feel were taken locally in 1996 that aren’t in 2009?

      On pay, I have a decade of experience since I graduated with a good degree from a good university. A younger friend with the same degree as me and a year’s further training just got the same wage as I am on as their starting salary in the private sector. Who is unsustainable?

  6. So nieve.

    House building numbers are imposed on us. Recycylling is imposed on us.
    Everything is driven by this Labour government.
    No one wants more Tescos in our area. Due to public pressure it was stopped but on appeal passed.
    You realy need to get out more is you think we have any say on what goes on.

    The bin collection system is the same as they have in Germany when I lived there, that has been imposed on us. this government ties up money that you can only have if you do what they want. and well you know it.

    • thelocalgovernmentofficer

      If the bin collection system is imposed, why is it done differently in different areas, and why have some Councils had elections where it has been an issue, and then changed the system after the election when political control changes?

      We clearly do have “any say on what goes on”, I see it every day. We don’t have as much as I think we ought to, but to say we don’t have any is just wacky.

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