Responding to the Liberal Democrat consultation on ‘Power for people and communities’
The Liberal Democrats love a policy consultation, and one of the party’s current ones is this one on ‘Power for people and communities’. Having written a very long response to it, I wanted to give it a wider audience than just the working group looking at the policy as I think it may have some interest to people, as well as encapsulating some of my frustrations with the way the party develops policy at the moment. (While this consultation is in no way as terrible as the current one on immigration, it’s still badly thought through with no real focus) So, if you want to see what I said, then read on…
In my response, I want to begin with some general points on the area of this consultation, then challenge a few of the points made in the text of the consultation document before I then go on to answer the specific questions.
In general, this consultation — and the party as a whole — is confused about what it’s purpose is and what the purpose of local government is. The problem the party has is that it’s so addicted to the idea of campaigning and electioneering as good things in and of themselves that it starts to see local government as a value-free playground in which the only important thing is getting elected, rather than what it can be achieved for. Thus, this consultation includes several questions that are of no relevance to a policy consultation but appear to have been included because someone envisages the final report as one in which campaigning tips can be shared.
Following this consultation, the working group need to think over what their remit is and focus themselves specifically on the questions of power, devolution and local government from an objective perspective, and eschew any notion of putting forward a policy that’s based on the idea of ‘what’s best for the Liberal Democrats’. This will likely involve putting forward policies that some sections of vocal councillors will object to because it appears to stop them engaging in all the fun of leaflet delivery, door-knocking and pothole pointing without ever having to think about anything politically. However, it will engage and motivate a different set of people who want to see the way in which power can be used to achieve liberal ends and create a more liberal country, and the committee has to make a decision about whether it’s role is to come up with interesting and radical ideas about how power is used and distributed in this country, or whether it just wants to come up with a few tweaks and pat councillors on the head and tell them to get out and deliver more leaflets.
On some specific points within the consultation:
2.1.2 refers to devolution on “a level consistent with strategic economic and infrastructure planning”. This completely ignores the idea that there should be any role for local identity within devolution structures, which is one of the reasons successive waves of devolution have faltered and failed. Governments sitting at the centre and drawing lines on a map to encourage economic and infrastructure planning haven’t paid attention to where people feel close to, where the social links are, and what areas feel culturally close even if they don’t have direct economic links. To create any workable system of local and regional government, there has to be proper accountability and democratic participation within the area and experience (look at the 1974 creations, for instance, and how few of them survive now) shows that for that to happen, we need to fir structures in with questions of culture and identity, not just economics and planning. A Yorkshire Parliament has a lot more resonance than a Leeds/Bradford City Region combined authority does, for instance.
2.1.3’s “devolution revolution” — we should be questioning whether devolution is even the term we should be using here, as it colours our perceptions and locks us into the mindset that power belongs in the centre and should be doled out from there to regions and local government. Thus we could see a government that creates bold reforms to local power, but because that power is only devolved, a future government could take all that power back. We’ve seen how recent governments have used the banner of localism as a smokescreen to cover the fact that very little power has actually been localised, it’s merely that local authorities now have the power to locally decide just how much they agree with what’s being laid down onto them from the centre.
2.2.5 on parish councils fails to recognise that there are valid reasons for parish councils not being created in urban areas. For instance, areas with a high turnover of population have little consistency to base a local council on, and in other areas people have busy lives and are not interested in the time commitment (on top of the financial commitment) that is required to create a formal parish council. Any proposals in this area should be looking at varieties of ways to localise power in urban and rural areas not just assuming that the parish council model should automatically apply.
2.3.2 on regional parties begs the question of how much of this consultation will be focused on the party’s regions and the members there, and how much will be dictated from the centre with the regions expected to jump on board and show enthusiasm for it. Surely any proposals on this should go to regions first, rather than coming through a federal conference?
3.1.1 “This means funding local government properly from the centre” and 3.1.2 “some taxation should be raised directly by local government” These both make a massive presupposition about the funding of local government, and should be challenged very strongly. The assumption that the principal funding of local government should be from the centre weakens the case for making power local and goes back to my points on devolution and localism. If the party puts forward policy that sees local government as little more than a delivery arm for central government — with central government enforcing compliance through its ownership of the purse strings — then any commitment to local government and local power is merely a hollow promise. To give local government real power, funding has to be principally driven by local government itself, not by central government, and I find it frankly baffling that a policy paper that wants to give more power to people is blindly assuming the status quo is a good idea.
3.2.3 on support for councillors seems like an odd inclusion within this policy paper. Surely questions of support for councillors are for local government to decide on a local basis, not something to be laid down from the centre? Again, this reveals the problems within this consultation where we seem to be placing the comfort and support councillors receive on an equal footing with the questions of how local government is funding, but not considering any other aspect of what that funding pays for. This is a matter that would be much more appropriate for ALDC to consider rather than this policy working group, especially as it doesn’t appear to have any interest in the wider standards framework for local government.
Finally, one issue completely missing from this consultation is the question of two-tier versus unitary local government, which is of vital importance in any moves forward. Are we happy with the current system? Does it promote accountability, democracy and efficiency? Should we be advocating a more general move to unitary authorities or sticking with the current system? I suspect this has been avoided so as not to facilitate an argument, but sometimes the party needs to create policy that causes arguments between members not attempt to smooth everything over in the name of consensus.
Question 1: What functions of Government should be devolved to regional and/or local government and at what particular levels? What functions should be delegated to national government?
First off, this question presupposes that ‘devolution’ is the right way to think about this issue. Would a more liberal approach be to start with the presumption of subsidiarity and federalism, where power is held at the lowest possible level and then only passed up to larger bodies if co-ordination at a higher level is possible. So, rather than thinking about what meagre powers central government might be prepared to ‘devolve’ to local government, regions and nations, why not start with asking the question of which powers can’t be best exercised at a local level? Then which of those are best addressed at regional level, which at national and which at a supra-national level?
So, my answer to the question would be: all of then, then let those governments choose which ones they think are best handed to a national government or above to deal with on their behalf.
Question 2: Combined authorities have provided a way for local government to work together across some economic units (such as city regions). Do we support their development? Is there a democratic deficit in Combined Authorities? Should one or two local authorities have the right to prevent others from combining? Do we support the ‘Metro Mayor’ concept for city regions? What do we feel about police services being accountable to elected Police and Crime Commissioners?
First off (and yes, there will be a lot of that in this response — to avoid it in the future, stop making so many contestable assumptions!) this isn’t one question but a whole set of them that could probably constitute a whole consultation in itself. It also, after the vague look of principles in the previous question, immediately drops into the realm of the specific and makes us question what tweaks we could make to an existing policy to make it acceptable, rather than questioning the entire basis of it.
In principle, there’s nothing wrong with local authorities coming together to achieve economies of scale and practicality on certain policy areas. However, the way this has worked in practice has shown that combined authorities are hugely undemocratic bodies, building on the already poor representative structures of local government and entrenching them further. If permanent administrative structures are being created, then permanent democratic structures need to be created alongside them that are more than ‘you can elect one person every four years and hope they’ll represent you despite there being no representative elected body to hold them to account’. There is a massive democratic deficit throughout the structures of government in this country and local government — no matter how it’s currently organised — suffers from the same problems.
The problem is evident in the question which talks about coming together across ‘economic units’. I don’t know how the working group act in their day-to-day lives, but my first assessment of a person isn’t to envisage them purely in terms of their connection to an ‘economic unit’ and nor do I think that reducing human political relationships down to this sort of uber-rationalist assumption to be a useful way of constituting government. We should be thinking again about the sort of areas people feel attachment to, and areas that already have in place the facilities to create a public sphere and a shared demos thata can hold government accountable and insist that it uses power to benefit them and their needs, not some Whitehall-directed agenda of workism centred around envisaging people as merely cogs within ‘economic units’.
As for police forces being accountable through PCCs, I find myself taking the position of Gandhi when asked what he thought about Western civilization: ‘I think that would be a good idea.’ The current PCC system is the same mess as Metro Mayors, assuming that democracy is merely about voting, and that by electing one person every four years across areas that don’t have shared media etc will somehow magically generate accountability. This is somewhere Liberal Democrats should be calling for a scrapping of the existing system and replacing it with something different and better, not hunting around for minor tweaks.
Question 3: Where does this leave authorities that are outside these areas, particularly where economic and infrastructure links necessarily involve them? Where does it leave rural areas?
Ignored, forgotten and likely finding themselves being affected by the decisions of their Metro overlords without having a say in what’s going on. That this can happen is yet another indication that the piecemeal approach of devolution is a bad idea and is going to cause huge problems in the long run. Again, we should be proposing radically different visions, not just tweaking around at the margins and thinking that constitutes a decent policy.
Question 4: How can we grow the ‘local’ tier of democracy (towns, villages and urban communities)? Should a local tier of democracy be statutory (i.e. compulsory for all areas)? What role and functions should be undertaken by this ‘local’ tier that are currently undertaken by the principal tiers of local government?
Again, a massive amount of issues crammed into a single ‘question’. No, because the most obvious location of democratic responsibility in each place is different and forcing the creation of new governmental structures on smaller and smaller levels without asking people if they want them is a recipe for less accountability, not more. The question should be how to do we best assure that structures of local government actually represent people and ensure their voices are heard. The powers for areas should be whatever powers they are best able to carry out accountably within their area with a recognition that those powers belong to them and aren’t just handed down on sufferance from a higher level.
Question 5: Do we agree that Single Transferable Vote, for example the Scottish system in 3, 4 and 5-member multi-member constituencies is the correct model for England?
No, because that presumes that there is a ‘correct’ model for voting systems, rather than the one that’s most appropriate for any particular situation. I would prefer to see a system where different areas can use different voting systems. For instance, STV might be best for ‘normal’ districts and boroughs, but the governance of cities and larger metropolitan areas (and other districts too) would benefit from having representatives elected on an ‘at-large’ remit to consider the problems of the area as a whole, without being tied to representing a particular ward or area. STV tends to be the best for electing groups of representatives for smaller areas, especially where individual responsibility is important to encourage, but open list systems may be better for at-large representatives.
Another issue worth considering is whether any centrally dictated one size fits all approach is necessary — would it not be better to allow each area to determine for itself what electoral system it uses (perhaps with some form of monitoring of efficacy by a combination of Boundary Commission and Electoral Commission with additional powers) and adapt its systems to reflect the way its citizens want it to work. That way then gives areas a chance to learn from each other which ways work better or worse for ensuring effective representation.
Question 6: What can we learn from overseas experience?
Lots, starting with how to have local government with actual power that people understand and want to be involved with. As an illustration, I was once at a European meeting with people from local government in various parts of Northern Europe. I was talking about how the government had changed our responsibilities for an area and was met by a bunch of questioning looks. ‘Why does the government have the power to do that?’ was the question I was asked — their understanding of local government is one where central government does not have the power to intervene and amend the powers available locally because there power begins at the bottom and heads upwards, rather than being hoarded at the centre.
So I would suggest that the group, if it hasn’t already, takes advantage of links through ALDE and Liberal International to look at how these issues are resolved in other countries, and I would suggest particularly looking at the example of Germany for how the balance there is struck between national government, the Länder, and local government.
Question 7: Given that the government is committed to business rate retention and the independence of local government, what should be our answer to long-term funding for local government?
Simply, a better one than the government is proposing at the moment. Actually ‘better’ is superfluous here, as the government has no long term vision for local government, so any proposal meets that requirement.
We should be looking at the idea that local and regional governments are capable of determining for themselves the best way of raising the funds needed to run their services, and government’s only role here is in ensuring that they have a range of tools available to do that. So rather than trying to torture business rates and council tax into a solution for everyone, allow councils the power to introduce a range of systems from land value taxation through local income tax to congestion charging and all the others and choose between them.
Allowing this freedom to local and regional governments would allow them to decide on the best taxes for their area, and then there’s no need for cumbersome policies of equalisation and rebalancing but rather questions of how the government runs a regional policy and allocates it own spending in regions to provide for less well-off areas.
Question 8: What should be done to make council tax fairer? Should we consider property revaluation?
See the answer to the previous question — make it one of a range of tax options open to local governments to use. Revaluation should be an ongoing process to ensure the tax is effective compared to others if authorities wish to use it. If we remain wedded to some form of council tax as the sole form of this, then we should be arguing for dynamic revaluation rather than static bands based on historical values. No other tax is applied like this, unless we want to advocate that your income tax band should be based on what you earned in 1991.
Question 9: Should we consider more radical replacements for council tax like LIT? Is the Scottish devolution a model for that and at what point do we allow local authorities to raise some other taxes e.g. tourist tax, sales tax etc? Should we consider assigning elements of nationally raised taxes to local government?
Yes, see answer to question 7. We don’t ‘allow’ local authorities -we give them the tools and they choose for themselves rather than rely on central government to do their thinking for them. A new system needs to be considered for how to rectify inequalities between areas if such a system applies. The government needs to consider how nationally raised taxes can be used to fund a genuine regional development policy, but also to develop a policy of how to extract money from richer areas to be reallocated to poorer ones without creating an arcane and impossible-to-understand system of local government financing that leaves all the power in the centre. One solution to this would perhaps be for a clearly imposed national level of taxation on, say, business rates/site value rating that goes directly to the government for regional re-allocation which would be much more open, accountable, understandable and fair than the current system.
Question 10: What about the borrowing powers of local government — should local authorities be allowed to borrow against the value of their stock — either specifically to build council houses or for more general purposes?
Yes, they should have much greater borrowing powers in order to be in direct control of spending and infrastructure development in areas under their control. Immediate relaxation on borrowing for building housing is an absolute must, but more generally they should have the power that regional and local governments around the world do to borrow to invest in their future, without having to go begging to central government for permission to do so first.
Question 11: Government is consulting on the prudential code — what do we think?
I have no idea. Given that this is the only mention of the prudential code in the document, it’s very hard for anyone to work out what this refers to, so it appears to be someone’s general note on discussions that’s somehow got included in this consultation. In the context, it may refer to council’s current requirement to have prudential level of reserves, or prudential borrowing requirements — if you want to consult on something, you need to provide information about what you’re consulting on!
Question 12: In the context particularly of Universal Credit, what if anything should local government should be doing in the field of benefits?
Being given much more control over them, and not having to spend their whole time jumping through hoops to fulfill central government directives and getting the blame when things go wrong with none of the responsibilities for making decisions about them. As with taxation, government should be giving councils the powers to use a variety of different tools to achieve their aims in this area, not prescribing what can and cannot be done by any authority.
Question 13: Is the balance between direct provision of services and the facilitation of communities etc. right?
Depends on the council, depends on the services, depends on the community. This question is so vague that any answer to it is going to be entirely arbitrary and likely based on the respondent’s local area and what happens there. The balance between the two is something that needs to be determined by local requirement and we should steer well away from trying to lay out a policy that describes exactly what different authorities in different areas in different circumstances should be doing.
Question 14: How can we further support councillors in their role? How should we ensure that councillors are more representative of the communities they serve?
By giving them actual power to make changes in the areas they represent rather than being dependent on what central government says they should be doing. Concentrating on areas of minor interest like support services for councillors is to miss the big picture that this policy consultation should be consulting on and investigating. (The details of councillors’ jobs like that are something much better dealt with by ALDC, rather than national party policy). If we give councillors actual power to do things, we will give them the power to ensure that they are properly supported in their roles, and making local elections mean something will ensure better representation for local areas by making people actually care about the results of local elections because they will have a direct effect on their lives, not merely looking like squabbles over minor details while all the real decisions are made in Whitehall.
Increasing the power of local government will give much more of an incentive to councils to be more representative and accountable because they’ll face much more scrutiny from the people they represent and be much more accountable as they can actually make a difference, not just blame central government if anything goes wrong.
One thing the party specifically could do for councillors is to stop regarding them merely as leaflet delivery machines and sources of cash for local parties but as people with political opinions who got involved and stood for election because they wanted to change things not act as glorified customer service representatives who combust with glee at the prospect of getting a pothole filled in. We need to combat the depoliticisation of much local politics, and expect our councillors to represent our values as liberals, not just be seen as people who can be told to shut up and deliver leaflets while the self-appointed geniuses at HQ do all the thinking.
Question 15: What are the relative merits of the Cabinet and Committee models? Should we take a party view on this?
The differences and merits of the two systems are myriad and I don’t have the time to lay them all out for this consultation. As with previous questions, what you’re likely to get here are answers based purely on personal experience in one area rather than any wider view of democratic systems and their efficacy. What we should be considering is how do we give local and regional government the power to decide for itself what is the best way to run its affairs (subject to democratic safeguards, of course). Rather than having a party policy that one system is better than others, we should be allowing areas to make this decision for themselves rather than getting into the absurd situation where councils that wanted to come together were having to agree to having a regional Mayor, not because of any local demand for one, but because the Treasury had decreed that was the model that had to be used by all combined authorities. As with electoral systems, we shouldn’t be afraid of differences between areas if we are genuinely committed to federalism and local power. Let people choose for themselves, not rely on the centre to decree what’s best for them.
Question 16: What are the implications for policy and practice of the proposed 2018 commitment to community campaigning?
Very little, as much of the strategy is just waffle and motherhood-and-apple-pie sounding buzzwords that don’t really amount to much. As with the original commitment to community politics in the 1970s, it will be interpreted by people to justify what they already wanted to do, and if we actually want to follow through the principles of that then we need to be thinking about a much less waffly way of describing it that isn’t open to creative interpretation. In far too many places ‘community politics’ means ‘doing everything that the community could do for itself if you showed them, but then how would be fill up a Focus if we can’t be pictured pointing at things?’ rather than actually giving power to communities — and a lot of that mindset has found its way into the consultation document too.
Question 17: What is the role of councillors and political activists in creating, supporting and mobilising communities to participate in campaigns and sharing power as part of community groups and institutions?
As with the other questions like this, the answer is a massive ‘it depends’ because what’s appropriate in one area is not in another as communities, councillors and government interact in many different ways depending on the area and its history. To assume there’s one answer that fits everyone is to fall into the trap of assuming that local government is the same everywhere which is patently not the case. We should be adopting an approach that instead relies on expecting local people to know best what’s best for their area, not telling them from the top what they should be doing.
Question 18: How can Liberal Democrat councillors use online tools to promote campaigns and participate in Council decisions?
In many, many different ways, but this question is best suited to the work of ALDC than it is to a party policy consultation. What does this have to do with the wider issues being discussed here? As mentioned before, this is an example of the confusion behind this policy consultation which can’t decide if it’s about coming up with a big picture of what local and regional government should be or if it’s just about coming up with a bunch of tweaks to what’s already being proposed, complete with throwing a lot of bones to local activists so they feel good about themselves.
Question 19: What is the role of the local voluntary sector in advocacy and campaigning and how does it/ should it complement local democracy?
It’s a vital part of local civic society and so has a major role to play in the creation of local responsibility and accountability for government. In terms of this consultation, mapping the range of remit of this local civil society is an important part of determining what sort of areas have a consistent local identity that an authority should be representing and organising.
Question 20: How do we identify those who are truly representative and who are really speaking up for a cause?
Well, there’s a simple question. Honestly, this seems like a huge can of worms to be opening up within this consultation, especially with no preparation within the consultation paper itself to explain what you mean here. As ever, this is something best left to local experience and understanding to resolve rather than assuming that some centrally-issued dictat on who is representative and who isn’t is a good way to move forward.
Question 21: What is the role and legitimacy of community groups relative to locally elected representatives?
As with question 20, you appear to have opened up a huge subject area with no real thinking, preparation or explanation as to why. I mean, there are huge tracts of political writings about these issues if you want to delve into them, but I’m not sure why it’s being included in this consultation, especially as you don’t provide any context for it. As before, they have a variety of roles and levels of legitimacy, a lot of which depends on the local context and history, so can’t be captured in a national policy of a political party, and indeed shouldn’t be if that party is genuinely committed to local power and local democracy, for these are questions that need to be answered according to local circumstances and liberal principles, not some lengthy set of guidelines laid down from above by the party.
Question 22: Have you or your council set up or worked with either (a) a TMO or (b) a Community Energy Co-operative? Does Community Asset Transfer work — who owns them and are they an effective way of ensuring that assets are safeguarded used in perpetuity?
a) No b) No
Generally — yes, it can work but the question of whether it works or not more often comes down to practical details and implementation rather than the contours of grand national policy. This consultation would be much better off focusing on those big issues than trying to get bogged down in the details of implementation of practical schemes which are much better left to organisations like the LGA.
Question 23: How should local government interact with non-geographical communities?
In a variety of different ways — this would be easier to answer if you had some illustration of what you mean by ‘non-geographic communities’. Again, this seems more about getting obsessed with details and specifics of implementation rather than thinking about big issues, and it reveals yet again that this consultation lacks a strong focus on what it’s trying to accomplish and achieve.
Question 24: How can we use online tools to enhance scrutiny and enable popular participation in balanced local decision-making?
See previous answers — in a variety of different ways, but the main way to improve popular participation is to give councils actual powers to affect their local communities and make them accountable for it, rather than investing lots in snazzy online and digital tools only to discover that the reason people aren’t involved is because they don’t actually have the power to make changes. Look at the big picture rather than focusing on small details on implementation (and yes, I’m repeating myself, but in the hopes that it might sink in)
Question 25: What is the scope for the use of engagement such as Citizens’ Juries in shaping decision-making?
They can have a role, but I’m sceptical of bringing in people to consider just one decision outside of its wider context of trade-offs and practical influences on other areas (see also the general objection to local referendums and trying to reduce everything into a simplistic yes/no dichotomy). Perhaps it would be better to investigate how local authorities could make use of sortition as an electoral system to include a randomised selection of people in all decisions — perhaps as a second chamber for regional assemblies?
Question 26: How do we build on ideas about common ownership of common resources (e.g. Elinor Olstrom’s ideas about Common Pool Resource institutions)?
As with the question on the prudential requirement, this has been dropped into the consultation with no context or information to allow someone to work out what’s being talked about here. It’s not a consultation if the contextual information needed to answer a question isn’t available within the consultation itself and is not common knowledge. I assume this means that someone on the working group is obsessed with this idea, so perhaps you should give them time and space to explain it rather than just dropping a question in on it? (And I checked, the only time the word ‘common’ is used in the document is in this question)
Some general points in conclusion
Having answered — or attempted to answer, in some cases, where they were just too vague — all the questions in this consultation, I’m none the wiser about what this group is attempting to do or what policy might come out of this consultation. You talk about being in place to look at power for people and communities, but don’t really take any time to think about quite what power means at this point in history and assume it all lies in the hands of government. You accept a huge amount of current assumptions about the nature of power within this country and seem to expect everyone to go along with the idea that power begins at the centre and can occasionally be loaned out to people in communities if they promise not to do anything too radical with it (and if they do, you’ll take it away from them). In the same way that central government is in need of radical reform in the way it works, so too is local government, yet this consultation appears to envisage a policy package from the party that would at best be not much more than a series of tweaks to the consensus of the two big parties, accepting such ideas as devolution, metro mayors, combined authorities etc as a fait accompli and not making any attempt to think of a different idea this party could put forward, of a way we could suggest a liberal distribution of power within this country.
We need to be looking at ways of giving power to the people and operating under the assumption that power comes from the bottom up, not the top down. How would we rework local and regional government in England if we began from that perspective rather than attempting to work within the current framework? Coming up with dozens of points of minor tweaks might make the policy wonks happy and including a section in the final paper that says how all our councillors are wonderful might make them happy, but it doesn’t lead to us making any liberal contributions to debate and we’re certainly not shifting people’s understandings onto liberal ground. And I say this as a current Liberal Democrat councillor with a decade of experience in local government: we’re not as wonderful as we think we are. We don’t follow the ideas of community politics as they were set out and are much more concerned with a Stakhanovite system of cheering on generic ‘campaigning’ as the most important thing while not thinking about the big issues. This consultation paper reflects the party’s problems on that, in that it gets caught between having no real vision for the big picture and a huge amount of unnecessary information on the specific. Too much of this consultation is asking questions about things that are best left to the ALDC or LGA to provide information to their members on how to achieve and aren’t things that need to be considered in a party policy paper.
And you haven’t asked for other visions of how we could rearrange authorities in this country, but here’s my proposals anyway:
- A general two-tier framework of regions and principal local authorities based on a principle of federalism where power comes from the bottom up, not the top down.
- Outside the major metropolitan areas, principal local authorities would combine the current powers of counties and districts and each would cover a population of approximately 300–500,000 people, but there’d be a major national exercise beforehand to work out which are the best areas for them based on identity, economy and existing infrastructure.
- The same exercise would recommend which local authorities should be grouped together into regions, but with the possibility of shifting those boundaries during an initial implementation. Regional authorities would be focused on wide area infrastructure and economy, but also providing services like police, fire, health, education etc with accountability for these services directly through the regional governments.
- Regions and local governments would be responsible for determining their own way of working and the systems they would use for accountability, elections etc subject to oversight by some form of local democracy commission. There would also be systems for power within these authorities to be handed down to local communities as those communities require.
- Metropolitan areas would operate on a similar system, similar to the way London operates now — an upper level equal to the regional authorities, and principal authorities beneath that, though size of those authorities could be larger than outside the metro areas if necessary.
- Regional and local authorities would have the power to raise taxes to fund their work as they see fit, with central government providing a range of different tax options they can use, not mandating any particular format. Central government’s main role in this system is to monitor and ensure fairness (especially during transition to a new system) and to co-ordinate a regional policy that redistributes across the nation. It should seek to bring regions together to implement major national projects as well as having its wider federal responsibilities.
In short, we give the power back to people and let them take control so that government becomes the servant of the people and power flows upwards from them, not down from the centre. That’s a policy that would be liberal, radical and different, and the sort of thing we should be putting forward.