This Thursday (9 September 2010) I have put forward a motion, seconded by my council colleague, Cllr Brian Ward, the essence of which is to request that the government intervenes and defers the Boundary Committee’s report, due to be released shortly.
The motion effectively leaves in place the current structure and electoral cycle in the interim period and means that Elections by thirds of 60 councillors will still take place in May 2011.
The motion is laid out below for information:
“That Stoke-on-Trent City Council welcomes the Government’s interest in local governance and will consider with interests its proposals in the forthcoming Bills that affect local democracy, some of them radical and far reaching.
In view of the proposals and the timetable set out for the changes, Stoke-on-Trent City Council expresses its concern regarding the imminent report from the Boundaries Commission regarding Stoke-on-Trent, in that some of the significant changes to local governance are likely to have implications that further require work by the Boundaries Commission.
It would, therefore be in the interest of the communities of Stoke-on-Trent, and continuity in the short term, that the current Boundary Review findings be deferred until such time as the current proposals by the Government are put into legislation, and can be considered by the Boundaries Committee and the impacts they may have on their recommendations, so as to reduce the need for repetition and instability over the short term.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council, therefore, asks the Minister responsible for Local Government to consider intervening regarding the above matter in the interests of the electors of Stoke-on-Trent.”
The whole council agenda and reports can be found HERE.
Firstly, I make no secret of my view that I believe that the draft position of the Boundary Committee, that 44 councillors should govern Stoke-on-Trent City Council to be wrong and detrimental to democracy in Stoke-on-Trent.
However, I wish to make it clear that this is not the motivation for the above motion, and I would discourage and not associate myself with those that see this as an opportunity.
Some may argue “Why bother?”, “There are more important issues” or “People aren’t interested”. There is almost a sense of satisfaction that our freedom and democracy are such that the vast majority that them for granted. However, Democracy for me is at the centre of my political being. It has shaped every decision I have made, and brought me to the place I am now.
I have seen some politicians used the argument “People aren’t interested” in the past and I have to say it infuriates me. At best it’s a lack of understanding and at worst a lazy side step and avoidance of the issues at hand. Democracy is the keystone that underpins all the public decisions made on our behalf and it affects every aspect of our lives from cradle to grave. Imagine the forth coming public services cuts without democracy.
I can put my views on Democracy in a simple sentence: The more people involved in decision making the greater the strength of the democracy.
Now to the motion itself and an explanation.
The ConDem Coalition Government has put forward a draft programme of changes first set out immediately following their formation and outlined in their Government Programme.
The coalition programme affecting local government
challenges the wisdom of major ward boundary or local government restructuring in the short term as their ambitious plans will directly conflict with those of the Transition Board and the Boundary Committee devastating proposals.
Government Programme on Local Government Chapter 4 states:
The Government believes that it is time for a fundamental shift of power from Westminster to people. We will promote decentralisation and democratic engagement, and we will end the era of top-down government by giving new powers to local councils, communities, neighbourhoods and individuals.
“¢ We will promote the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. This will include a review of local government finance.
“¢ We will rapidly abolish Regional Spatial Strategies and return decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils,including giving councils new powers to stop”Ëœgarden grabbing’.
“¢ In the longer term, we will radically reform the planning system to give neighbourhoods far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live, based on the principles set out in the Conservative Party publication Open Source Planning.
“¢ We will abolish the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission and replace it with an efficient and democratically accountable system that provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure projects.
“¢ We will publish and present to Parliament a simple and consolidated national planning framework covering all forms of development and setting out national economic,environmental and social priorities.
“¢ We will maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and other environmental protections, and create a new designation ““ similar to SSSIs ““ to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities.
“¢ We will abolish the Government Office for London and consider the case for abolishing the remaining Government Offices.
“¢ We will provide more protection against aggressive bailiffs and unreasonable charging orders, ensure that courts have the power to insist that repossession is always a last resort,and ban orders for sale on unsecured debts of less than £25,000.
“¢ We will explore a range of measures to bring empty homes into use.
“¢ We will promote shared ownership schemes and help social tenants and others to own or part-own their home.
“¢ We will promote “ËœHome on the Farm’ schemes that encourage farmers to convert existing buildings into affordable housing.
“¢ We will create new trusts that will make it simpler for communities to provide homes for local people.
“¢ We will phase out the ring-fencing of grants to local government and review the unfair Housing Revenue Account.
“¢ We will freeze Council Tax in England for at least one year, and seek to freeze it fora further year, in partnership with local authorities.
“¢ We will create directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities, subject to confirmatory referendums and full scrutiny by elected councillors.
“¢ We will give councils a general power of competence.
“¢ We will ban the use of powers in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA)by councils, unless they are signed off by a magistrate and required for stopping serious crime.
“¢ We will allow councils to return to the committee system, should they wish to.
“¢ We will abolish the Standards Board regime.
“¢ We will stop the restructuring of councils in Norfolk, Suffolk and Devon, and stop plans to force the regionalisation of the fire service.
“¢ We will impose tougher rules to stop unfair competition by local authority newspapers.
“¢ We will introduce new powers to help communities save local facilities and services threatened with closure, and give communities the right to bid to take over local state-run services.
“¢ We will implement the Sustainable Communities Act, so that citizens know how taxpayers’ money is spent in their area and have a greater say over how it is spent.
“¢ We will cut local government inspection and abolish the Comprehensive Area Assessment.”¢ We will require continuous improvements to the energy efficiency of new housing.
“¢ We will provide incentives for local authorities to deliver sustainable development, including for new homes and businesses.
“¢ We will review the effectiveness of the raising of the stamp duty threshold for first-time buyers.
“¢ We will give councillors the power to vote on large salary packages for unelected council officials.
This has more recently been formalised and reinforced by the release of the document sent to councils called the “DCLG Draft Structural Reform Plan”.
The full document is here:
CLG_Draft_Structural_Reform_Plan.pdfThe significance of this document for Stoke-on-Trent is highlighted in many of the changes proposed and are self evident, but also in the timetable.
Most of the changes will come in the “Local Government Bill” timetabled for October 2010 and the “Localism Bill” timetable for October 2011.
The number of changes will have an enormous impact on the role of elected members, not just is Stoke-on-Trent but right across the country.
These, according to the government’s own timetable shall be in place by October 2011.
This is why I am moving the motion at full council, as I believe it would be in the interests of everyone in Stoke-on-Trent, that any significant changes in governance take into account the new governments changes.
My understanding is that the Secretary of State has the power to do this, as Parliament must consider the Boundary Committee’s Recommendation and approve them before they can be implemented.