Saturday, June 28, 2008

Chipmunk Runs Amok



Tyler recently stood behind the Chipmunk in the checkout queue at Sainsburys. She was buying a Warburtons Toastie loaf (800g), a carton of pomegranate juice, and what seemed to be a mini-Easter egg. It was frankly disturbing.

Anyway, the Chipper is now in charge of local government. No, really, she is: well over £100bn pa of our money. And as you'd expect, she's racing round her exercise wheel at alarming speed. She's just told Public Finance magazine about her plans to devolve power right down to street level:

"With my own roots in local politics, grounded in the streets and estates of Salford... squeak squeak... empowerment... community engagement agenda... real opportunity... police performance regime... squeak... operating framework aligned with local indicator sets..."

Strip away the crap, and the idea is an old one: central government wants "community engagement" in order to cut local councils out of the decision-making loop altogether.

Needless to say, the local authorities are somewhat underwhelmed. The head of the Local Government Association, Sir Simon Milton, says:

"You can’t argue with it – petitions, community “kitties”, empowerment, things of that kind – but if you can’t stop your local post office, or your local GP surgery from closing, then actually citizens will get thoroughly disenchanted pretty quickly."

Nail walloped firmly on head. As we've blogged many times, local councils have very little independent power - they are an arm of Whitehall, largely paid by Whitehall, and therefore forced to play Whitehall's tune. But street level community engaged punters would have even less power: divide and rule.

The UK has the most centralised taxation system of any major economy. According to the OECD, only 4% of our tax revenue is raised locally, compared to around 10% in say France, and 11.5% in the US:



Step one in community empowerment is to return tax raising authority back to the local level, closer to the people who have to pay.

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