The Prime Minister talks of devolution in the ‘Big Society’, so why is local Government being hit so hard?
For a long time now the Conservatives have positioned themselves as the local party. Many of their top brass will still talk hazy-eyed about idyllic small villages and community cohesion; the ills of the city a far away nightmare. So it came as no surprise when David Cameron talked of his ‘Big Society’ idea prior to the election before confirming it in a speech in July. Cynics and leftists viewed this as simply meaningless words – pure, unadulterated, political spin, while those in the right wing media proclaimed this as the new start that would finally offer us the country we want and deserve.
At once Cameron was called both a visionary and a hype-artist.
But are we beginning to see the start of this fabled campaign? One of the largest criticisms levelled against the ‘Big Society’ was that it held no real meaning and there was no workable sign of where funding would come from. In theory the idea of people running their own local services seems a smart move, in practice though there has been no indication of how this would ever work.
Every Government department and area of the public sector has had to brace itself for cuts, few though have seen as drastic cuts (given required funding to operate) as Local Government. Eric Pickles announcement of a huge budget reduction will, it has been claimed, decimate local councils and their ability to work effectively. In some areas reports have stated that up to a third of local government jobs will be shed.
Cameron’s claim then that the Big Society will be “the biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street” would, it appears, be a clever move to redistribute power away from local authority control.
It would come as no great shock if Cameron and his cabinet did try and phase out local politics, after all there has been no end of embarrassment caused in recent months by Conservative councillors publicly making offensive remarks or fighting amongst themselves – stories that have time after time hit national news headlines. But for a party that has so carefully positioned themselves as the local party and for one that has claimed it wants to devolve power away from Parliament, it is strange that local Government might see the axe fall hardest.
When Cameron talked so vibrantly about power to the individuals and to the community, was he really speaking about communities making key local decisions and not elected representatives? A move away from this democratic process wouldn’t be surprising in many respects, tied up in bureaucracy and with the authority to speak on behalf of the national party it would almost be unsurprising if Cameron did support local politics. Maybe then, just maybe, the Big Society isn’t about power to the individual but more about taking power away from certain individuals.
It is hard to fathom an area without a fully functioning local council. Who would give out planning permission? Who would arrange bin collections? Who would decide when to turn the Christmas lights on?… well the last one isn’t such an issue, but for the most part an area would grind to a halt without a fully functioning local authority; for this reason their complete disappearance is highly unlikely, but removing a large part of the funding and power from them is looking increasingly likely.
This of course could all just be conjecture, but I would certainly advise everyone to watch this space closely. If Cameron carries on talking up his Big Society while continuing to keep his cards close to his chest, and at the same time breaking down local government then your area might change more drastically than you could have previously imagined.