Let’s defend the tier of local government decision making

TWO weeks ago 90 Liberal Democrat councillors wrote to The Times expressing their concern at the speed of the reductions in local government support from the coalition.

Cynics might say that this is pure politics and that the elected representatives themselves had an eye to the next round of council elections and simply wanted to define a position which was not obviously allied to the Conservatives.

I, however, think that there is more to it than that and what is happening in Hastings can serve as a useful example of what I mean.

No one can be in any doubt about the extent of the financial deficit which has to be addressed by this country and however we apportion the blame the reality is that “We are where we are.”

The big question is really whether it is reasonable for local government to have to shoulder the greatest burden of all in terms of public expenditure reduction generally.

Here in Hastings where only a financial year ago we were in receipt of more per capita assistance than any other district council, the sudden withdrawal of huge amounts of funding is just bound to have a dramatic effect on such a deprived town as ours.

In years gone by, people would probably have taken to the streets and not expected a Labour council to act as the vehicle for such cuts in local services. Times have changed.

What seems at odds with the Government’s deficit reduction programme is its equally emphatic reliance apparently on “localism” and the Big Society.

By this pronouncement you would have thought that there just might be a return of real powers to local district councils which are as close as anyone to their communities.

I am now the longest serving councillor on Hastings Borough Council and can remember those heady days when we had control over rents, rates and most of the important economic decisions affecting our town.

As a county borough Hastings benefited from its own education department and even at one time its own police force. That was real localism and there was genuine civic pride.

While I acknowledge that no party was given a mandate to govern alone at the last election and that coalition was the only deal in town, it is also true that no one voted for the end of meaningful local government and we should all be defending the district tier of local decision-making before it becomes a tragic victim of the well-meaning efforts being made to extricate our country from the mess in which it finds itself.