Is Localism In A Pickle?

Eric Pickles has announced the sweeping away of accountability in a localism bill that will throw the scrutiny baby out with the bath water. He calls his 200 clause bill revolutionary, but Pickles view of revolution is not like anything the French would understand. It is being bulldozed through parliament like a coup d’etat. What Pickles has done is nothing more than single handedly ensure his bill will give an unlimited power to council leaders to act unhindered in any action they determine is needed to improve the economic, environmental and social well being. All very laudable, but such unfettered power has to be held to account by checks and balances.

Eric Pickles has been as clever as any politically correct politician before him he has brought a whole new context to creative semantics Localism is key to contemporary government, however his bill consists of talking in strange new meanings. I believe he has done this to lessen the impact of his Machiavellian brew to prevent the public learning too early the inevitable truth of how it will be interpreted and used by many councils. Pickles is not one to be put off by the inconvenience of the public finding out what he is up to and often offers reassurance by means of joking. His jocularity about his own bill was there will be no militias, councils will not be allowed to invade France.

He has gushed about his centrepiece of legislation and of the The General Power of Competence which is an all powerful tool. Despite Pickles reassurance that councils will not be raising militias. In my opinion it is too powerful a tool to be resisted by some council leaders and for some council’s that will be a reason not include their residents in democracy.  by that I mean the governance of themselves by participation and not by powerful political elite. That will only require the people to turn out and put a X in the appropriate place; once every four years! As an example of this where was Pickle’s Green Paper and White paper? Pre scrutiny of such a bill was avoided, but why? Did he believe the game would be up if we could check the detail thoroughly?

He is fiddling whilst Rome burns as we all know that he should have made changes to government finance as the pedestal to place this revolutionary centrepiece on.  He has chosen not to do so, which raises my hackles that there is something suspicious about this bit of Political Engineering. He is about the genetically engineer the whole of local government and yet he has failed to make financial provision to ensure this monster. Does not rampage through towns and communities like something akin to a Frankenstein’s monster that has escaped from the Town Hall.

I welcome the community level engagement in the bill, I know this will lead to many hands off or arms length organisations providing local services. However as an elected representative I want to make sure there are sufficient powers to scrutinize and hold these organisation to account for their decisions.

What happens if an extremist group takes on or over one of these organisations? Let us look at different neighbouring areas of Swindon that are more socially mobile and have less deprivation already appear to capture a fair proportion of resources now. For example look at two community centres on two neighbouring wards Lawn Community Centre, and the Dome. Lawn is thriving and a long way down the deprivation index in comparison to Walcot, that was closed for a period recently.

Its not just community centres, look at the parks and gardens in Old Town and Lawns and Eastcott, Town Gardens and Queens Park respectively, now look at the provision in Central a neighbouring ward with its GWR park on Faringdon road. Where there are a group of people that are able to manage and voice their views, aspirations etc the council appears to give more resources now. I worry that such communities will be far more capable of securing resources in Pickle’s New Promised Land than those in areas with limited social mobility.

I believe this bill is to camouflage the front loaded cuts that Pickles will be slamming into the community over the next two years. What I believe is concerning Pickles is that Local Authority Democracy and accountability actually stands in the way of his plans to shake down and dismantle the NHS. He will also need to produce a new local funding structure for the Police Commissioners. If he dilutes this accountability and ability to scrutinize these organisations. Then he has succeeded in rolling back the stability of Town Halls almost to a parody of those seen in Carry On Films. Local authorities are a bulwark against the excesses of the LibDem Conservative coalition as it undertakes its Stalinist programme and a Maoism cultural revolution. I am sure that Pickles is looking for a legacy and a place in local government history I do not think I will be writing it the way he wants it, Pickles will be identified with sole credit for changing the fate of an entire nation.

I am not a centralist and I cannot help but  find myself asking. Why Does The MP for brentwood want to drive a bulldozer through local government?  As a believer in local participative democracy and governance I await this bulldozing legislation from the brentwood MP, with much trepidation, and I hope for all of us that all MPs will give this bill the scrutiny it deserves. Failure to do this or to act in a politically motivated or partisan way will give Pickles his green light to start that bulldozer!