Friday, 2 December 2016

Are some MPs finally coming round to the fact that more can - and should - be done locally?

Given that MPs and senior politicians are seeking to leave parliament and become metro mayors, is this an indication that even they are losing faith in the current system of government and see that more can - and should - be done at local level?

Devolution is happening across the country, not without its problems, or detractors, but nonetheless, the Government is pushing its agenda for greater powers to be levied at local level. In several areas plans for devolution have been devised and agreement has been made with the Government. In Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield City Region  the Government has rubber-stamped the devolution agreement, with the process well underway in the first two and the third being held up by internal disagreements over democratic issues.

With nine local authorities making up the Sheffield City Region it was never going to be plain sailing.  The four 'constituent' local authority areas, Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield, will make up the electoral area, but the remaining non-constituent areas, (neighbouring parts of Bassetlaw, Bolsover, Chesterfield, Derbyshire Dales and North-East Derbyshire) will be hugely impacted by decisions made by the Mayor, (especially on issues like transport) yet residents in these authorities will not have a vote, I foresaw this as a potential sticking block when I wrote about the issue in 2015, for OpenDemocracy, in Devolution Versus Democracy.

I described how my 'democracy klaxon' went off when I read the devolution agreement and discovered that not everyone affected by the actions of the elected Mayor, will actually get to vote.  Essentially this is a South Yorkshire mayor. A South Yorkshire mayor who will have influence over a transport strategy and infrastructure that affects people in five other local authority areas.  My crystal ball gazing was correct, as now there are legal challenges and the process is likely to be delayed while the democratic elements of the process are worked out. (This is in addition to residents in Sheffield already rejecting an elected mayor and the Government being less than clear on whether they have changed their stance on elected mayors being a requirement of any deal. This one is going to run...)

In Manchester and Liverpool, the process has been smoother, with political parties already selecting their candidates and campaigning well under way. In Manchester, the Labour candidate is former Secretary of State and most recently, Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham MP and in Liverpool, Steve Rotheram MP has been selected - in a contest that saw him pitched against fellow Liverpool MP and Labour Parliamentary colleague, Luciana Berger.

The position of Police and Crime Commissioner has also seen several former MPs moving away from national politics and into a more local arena. Tony Lloyd, the current Interim Mayor and PCC of Greater Manchester left Parliament to contest the first PCC election in 2012. When the post of PCC was first established, there were six people elected to the post who were previously Members of Parliament, including Vera Baird and Jane Kennedy. So why the move from national to local? (I guess there's also the possibility of a whole other post about relative payscales and not having to deal with the nightmare that is IPSA!

It's almost ironic, given the general lack of consideration that parliament gives to local councils and the lack of respect that many national politicians appear to have for local councillors. Eric Pickles tried to convince us that he was creating a new way of doing more at local level and talked a lot about "localism", but he was way off the mark. In fact, the Tories talk about giving power to local authorities, but what they actually mean is, withdrawing money traditionally provided by central government to provide local services and that is a completely different thing altogether.

I am absolutely convinced that local power is the way forward, but it must be adequately funded. The government appears to be working the same old Tory plan of; 1. remove funding, 2. cause services to suffer and criticise the local systems, 3. bring the private sector in to take over and profit - and this must be stopped.

I am pleased to see high profile politicians realising the value of local governance; whatever their motives. I do however want to see them championing local services, not just building their own mayoral empires. As elected mayor, their role will be much easier with collaboration and co-operation from the local authorities that exist within their metro area.