Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence


Memorandum by Nicholas Capp (RG 05)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  Visibility and accountability are the bedrock of a truly democratic nation, therefore it's crucial that the methods employed to achieve accountability are continuously improved, refined and re-examined.

  It is desirable for issues to be democratically determined at the most local level possible. There should be a continual effort to re-evaluate each issue that is the subject of democratic debate and decision-making to see if the issue can be delegated down to the next local level. This process can steadily move much decision-making to the local level.

  With a level structure in place that's strongly focused towards local decision-making, the opportunity to increase accountability is magnified. Local level decision-making provides the best prospect of maximising democratic participation and therefore achieving very high accountability.

  There is a need for union (UK through to global), national (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland), shire and local levels of democratic decision-making, because the varying nature of issues means that not all issues can be dealt with at one single level. It is undesirable, however, for a plethora of levels to exist, so whenever more than four levels are found they should be critically studied with a view to simplification. Shire-level borough councils currently serve large towns and cities, this arrangement can taken forward and refined, thus there's no need to introduce new city regions.

  At the national level there's currently a serious anomaly with England being the only nation lacking national representation through it's own parliament, so the English parliament should be established as a matter of urgency. The most cost-effective method of establishing the English parliament would be to convert Westminster from the UK parliament to the English parliament. Non-devolved UK issues could be debated at sessions attended by all of members of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish parliaments/assemblies. These UK sessions could be held at each of the national parliaments on a rota basis.

  Modern communications technology opens up new avenues that offer the potential to reach historically high levels of democratic participation. It is feasible to use modern technology to enable local constituents to register their vote on a regular per-issue basis.

  It is vital that the scope of the different levels of power and their connections are clearly defined and publicised. Productivity measurements should be routinely taken by an independent body to assist in monitoring the effectiveness of service provision.

  The level structure should be continually policed by an independent body, potentially even a private management services company, to ensure that any duplication of decision-making is highlighted and publicised. Issues that are subject to duplication of decision-making should be prioritised for reclassification to the most local level of decision-making possible.

  To introduce further levels of bureaucracy such as city regions would reduce productivity in service provision, would consume scarce resources, and would therefore have a negative impact on both the new regional and existing shire-level bodies.

  It is desirable for the shires to have sufficient autonomy to permit each of them to negotiate their own co-operative arrangements with all suitable third parties. Autonomous shires have every chance to lever the talents of their constituents in order to achieve economic prosperity, therefore autonomy of the shires is key.

  Economic disparities are normal and only become a cause for concern when individual shires experience economic deprivation. The "level playing field" argument fails to stand up because there will always be differences in available resources and talent. An homogenous situation never has and never will exist.

SECTION 1

The potential for increasing the accountability of decision-making at the shire and local level, and the need to simplify existing arrangements

  Visibility and accountability are the bedrock of a truly democratic nation, therefore it's crucial that the methods employed to achieve accountability are continuously improved, refined and re-examined.

  There is a need for shire and local levels of democratic decision-making, because the varying nature of issues means that not all issues can be dealt with at one single level. It is undesirable, however, for a plethora of levels to exist.

  The shire and local level structure needs to be continually policed by an independent body, potentially even a private management services company, to ensure that any duplication of decision-making is highlighted and publicised. Issues that are subject to duplication of decision-making should be prioritised for reclassification to the most local level of decision-making possible.

  With a level structure in place that's strongly focused towards local decision-making, the opportunity to increase accountability is magnified. Local level decision-making provides the best prospect of maximising democratic participation and therefore achieving very high accountability.

  Modern communications technology opens up new avenues that offer the potential to reach historically high levels of democratic participation. It is feasible to use the banks' secure ATM network to enable constituents to register their vote on a regular per-issue basis; this is already being done in some countries such as Switzerland. There are many other such opportunities to use modern technology to multiply democratic participation and accountability.

  In summary, there's a huge potential to increase the accountability of decision-making, and introduce an ongoing process of simplification, at the shire and local level.

SECTION 2

The potential for devolution of powers from shire to local level

  It is desirable for issues to be democratically determined at the most local level possible. There must be a continual effort to re-evaluate each issue that is the subject of democratic debate and decision-making to see if the issue can delegated from the shire to the local level. This process can steadily move much decision-making to the local level.

  Modern communications technology opens up new avenues that offer the potential to reach historically high levels of democratic participation. It is feasible to use the banks' secure ATM network to enable local constituents to register their vote on a regular per-issue basis; this is already being done in some countries such as Switzerland. There are many other such opportunities to use modern technology to multiply democratic participation and accountability.

  In summary, there's a huge potential to devolve powers from the shire to the local level.

SECTION 3

The effectiveness of current arrangements for managing services at the various levels, and their inter-relationships

  It is vital that the scope of the different levels of power and their connections are clearly defined and publicised. Productivity measurements should be routinely taken by an independent body to assist in monitoring the effectiveness of service provision.

  It is desirable for issues to be democratically determined at the most local level possible. There should be a continual effort to re-evaluate each issue that is the subject of democratic debate and decision-making to see if the issue can be delegated down to the next local level. This process can steadily move much decision-making to the local level.

  The level structure should be continually policed by an independent body, potentially even a private management services company, to ensure that any duplication of decision-making is highlighted and publicised. Issues that are subject to duplication of decision-making should be prioritised for reclassification to the most local level of decision-making possible.

SECTION 4

The potential for new arrangements, particularly the establishment of city regions

  There is a need for union (UK through to global), national (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland), shire and local levels of democratic decision-making, because the varying nature of issues means that not all issues can be dealt with at one single level. It is undesirable, however, for a plethora of levels to exist, so whenever more than four levels are found they should be critically studied with a view to simplification. Shire-level borough councils currently serve large towns and cities, this arrangement can taken forward and refined, thus there's no need to introduce new city regions.

  At the national level there's currently a serious anomaly with England being the only nation lacking national representation through it's own parliament, so the English parliament should be established as a matter of urgency. The most cost-effective method of establishing the English parliament would be to convert Westminster from the UK parliament to the English parliament. Non-devolved UK issues could be debated at sessions attended by all of members of the devolved English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish parliaments/assemblies. These UK sessions could be held at each of the national parliaments on a rota basis.

SECTION 5

The impact which new regional and sub-regional arrangements, such as the city regions, might have upon peripheral towns and cities

  To introduce further levels of bureaucracy such as city regions would reduce productivity in service provision, would consume scarce resources, and would therefore have a negative impact on both the new regionalised cities and their neighbours. Instead the focus should be on stimulating the delegation of power to the most local level possible, and maximising democratic participation especially at the local grass-roots level that offers the most dynamic potential for development.

SECTION 6

The desirability of closer inter-shire co-operation (as in the Northern Way) to tackle economic disparities

  It is desirable for the shires to have sufficient autonomy to permit each of them to negotiate their own co-operative arrangements with all suitable third parties. It may, for example, be possible for them to extract economies of scale from these arrangements.

  Economic disparities are normal and only become a cause for concern when individual shires experience economic deprivation. The "level playing field" argument fails to stand up because there will always be differences in available resources and talent. An homogenous situation never has and never will exist.

  Autonomous shires have every chance to lever the talents of their constituents in order to achieve economic prosperity, therefore autonomy of the shires is key.





 
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