Not Mid Morning Matters

JD in the Morning, off air…

Tag: local government

What are you doing on 4th May?

This year the annual Star Wars “funny” date will have a serious and profound change to the way we are governed in the regions of England. We get to vote for a Metro Mayor, a “metro metro mayor, who wants to be a metro mayor?”… sorry, I went all Village People there.

This is election is rather important. A Metro Mayor will be responsible for key priorities in the English regions they are being elected, which will affect you every day. A Metro Mayor will be able to spend around a billion pounds of your money on these priorities over the next ten years. One Billion pounds. 10 years. Metro Mayors will be taking over these key responsibilities from the current local councils and authorities.

Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset along with South Gloucestershire councils have all come together with their 900,000 people to have a Metro Mayor for the West. You get to vote for the one you want on 4th May. So what will she or he actually be able to do for you and me?

Our West Metro Mayor will be responsible for planning, transport and education (apprenticeships) so you can expect that they will build more houses, more roads, improve rail and airport links plus create more jobs and encourage new businesses to come here with apprenticeships schemes. All good news. Well, not quite. There are some key problems with there being a Metro, Metro Mayor.

One. North Somerset are not part of it and Bristol Airport is on their patch. Will the other three council areas vote to hand over their Metro Mayor cash to support North Somerset and improve the links to the airport? North Somerset gain from this but North Somerset are autonomous, not having to answer to a Metro Mayor.

Two. North Somerset are going to be building more than 20,000 homes in the next ten years, some 6,000 more than they wanted to build. That’s central government for you. Those new residents are going to be drawn up the M5 to Bristol and Bath for work and play. That’s a lot of people using the region’s already struggling roads and public transport without any controls on them or where the homes will be built. Will all Metro Mayor spending stop dead at Gordano, like three lanes of caravans on a wet summer Saturday morning?

Three. The Metro Mayor’s spending money is £33m a year. This sounds like a lot when you look at the cuts our four councils are having to make. The new South Bristol link road, which took 18 months to build, is just over three miles long cost £45m. So, by that maths, our new Metro Mayor can build 2(ish) miles of road a year and that’s it. Of course he or she could use that money to borrow more money, which will happen, but this means a Metro Mayor will be more creating debt for the future.

Four. The actual election of the Metro Mayor. There is only one reason to vote in the West on May 4th this year and that is for a Metro Mayor. You will be voting for a new and an extra layer of government on top of our councils and between the West’s MP’s and Westminster. That is going to be a hard sell for all the political parties. The result will be an even harder sell if the turnout is low. Anything less than 20% turnout is going to look a bit rubbish.

As Nat “King” Cole once sang “there may be trouble ahead”. There may also be some answers to some of the key issues of the West on transport, housing and creation of new jobs in a fast changing jobs market. This may help the West with the back ground of both Brexit and a more protectionist United States. We live in a world where adding layers of government or management seems to be an answer. This often seems to be the result of those in charge who say they want to “remove” layers of government and management. Maybe this is a way of deflecting responsibility or maybe it’s a way of creating accountability?

You decide, on May 5th, if you vote on May 4th (be with you).

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For Facts Sake!

In or out it has certainly been shaken about and what ever happens the day after 23rd of June, Europe will never be the same again. This is not a vote for change or status quo (although their brand of four cord rock is very popular) it is a vote for change or change. Before “that” referendum you have the local elections on 5th May and even if you council is not up for X marks the spot this year, you will still have a Police and Crime Commissioner to vote for. Yes you do. Unfortunately it’s not like the one from Batman with a loveable Irish side kick and a red phone under a transparent cake cover, our Police and Crime Commissioners hold our police to account and set the crime plan to help us feel safe and be safe. Now you know. Do you know who is standing? You should.

So it is pencils to the ready and let’s wait to see who comes knocking our doors wearing a rosette looking to “count on our vote”. You might have a long wait. It’s just not like it use to be in delivery of politics or its outcome. The delivery seems to be more about reassuring the core voter that they are right to back you message (much like most newspapers assure their readers that they have bought the right paper and here is why we are as one by not letting the facts get in the way) or it is about bombarding “the undecided” with a material ranging from simple policy headings to good old-fashioned fear. Project fear.

And here is the real fear. Turnout. Look at the recent turn out for national and local elections. In 2015 the General Election turnout was 66.1% and the best we have managed on one of those since the Second World War was in 1950 at 83.9%. Still, could be worse. In 2001 it was 59.4%. At best nationally a third of the country can’t be bothered to vote. In the European elections of 2014 the turnout was 35.6%, the high point was 2004 when 38.52% of us voted and the lowest was in 1999 when just 24% bothered to play X marks the E.U spot. Our local elections are even worse when these determine our day-to-day governance and management! 2012 saw Bristol make a huge change to the way it was run to being governed by an elected mayor. This massive change to how the residents council tax was spent was decided by just 28% of registered voters. Some Wards didn’t get above 20%. 260,000 people either didn’t care or didn’t understand. This is what we proudly call democracy and this is what we hold as a standard against other countries in our foreign policy and its advocacy.

What can be done? Legislate to make us all vote, have a none of the above box, use the same technology behind Bitcoin to offer secure on-line voting? MAybe we could turn it into an X Factor or The Voice type thingie where Dermot O’Leary has all the contestants, err politicians on a Saturday night TV show standing in a row, complete with tension building, drum beating music and a long pregnant pause before announcing the winner? All of these have been considered.

Surely it is actually down to us. If we can’t be bothered to vote then why should our political class be bothered by us. If our political class seemingly can’t be bothered then why should we. It is down to us to change it. It is our vote not theirs.

Democracy is about the people, about and for us. We need and must be involved, to turn up, to seek out the information and ideas that best suit us and our loved ones and then vote for them. We need to read, listen, ask, check and qualify then turn up to vote as it is our tax that pays for it and our tax that the elected spend on everything. “Taxes are price we pay for civilisation” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr the noted US Supreme Court Judge. Our voting determines how we want our civilisation to be, whether it is for our local councillors or our place in Europe. So maybe it is worth a few minutes of our time to research, discuss and actually vote, stating on 5th May. It’s always much more fun when you take part rather than moaning from the sidelines.

The United Kingdom? Why the majority needs a say NOW

We are still a United Kingdom, or Queendom if you prefer, as the vote in Scotland has given the whole of the UK a real chance to consider its political future. But will it? Not as I write. It seems that big P politics is set to get in the way, again.

The result from Thursdays referendum in Scotland was decisive, if not slightly born out of Westminster panic based on one Sunday Times poll. The real winner was democracy and the Scottish people with a voter turn out of 86%. The engagement of 16 and 17-year-old voters must mean that they are enfranchised on all future votes but the total turn out proves that when it really matters ‘we the people’ will get involved, listen to the arguments on both sides and vote. Politics in the UK could learn a lot from the experience of Scotland. This vote may also finally kill the ‘centre ground’, which has done more to damage democracy than anything else in a generation.

Yet as one question is answered many others are posed and one of those questions is very big. What of the rest of the UK and its governance? Scotland has it’s parliament, Wales and Northern Ireland have their Assemblies but England has, err nothing. That is not entirely true. England has councils, lots and lots of councils. There are parish, town, district and county councils plus unitary authorities and there are local enterprise partnerships, MPs and lets not forget MEPs too. The South West has six of those. All those people, elected and doing what? We are not short of governance or politicians to do it. They all cost you money and they all have their agendas.

If you have ever watched a council meeting or been part of this level governance at any level you can see why so little actually gets done. It’s a miracle that anything ever gets done. So does England need is own Assembly or Parliament as well as councils various or does it need to look at all the layers of government it currently has and make it more effective?

First question. Do we really need all the various councils we have? It is hard to get good Councillors, even harder to get people to vote for Councillors. Local government and governance is the one that actually affects us more day-to-day than anything else. Why not have one single level of local government rather than three or four? And why not pay those who do it too? No amateurs, part timers, parish pump types but local politicians dedicated to public service and paid properly for it.

Second question. Does England need a parliament too? The simple population statistic is that 85% of the United Kingdom … phew … Is English, in that they live in England. Minorities have their voices heard and constantly championed through assemblies, parliaments or pressure groups who are often shouting about how hard done by they are and why the need more money/representation/say/rights. The English majority have nothing. There is real need for an English parliament for English governance.

This would lead to an English and Scottish parliament, a Welsh and Northern Ireland assembly. Add to this a single tear of regional assemblies, and a House of Lords replaced by an elected Senate for UK wide issues and governance and Robert’s your father’s brother, it’s a new way of doing politics and running the UK.

The single tear regional assemblies plus a Welsh and a Northern Ireland assembly would deal with the day-to-day services we all use including education and health. An English and Scottish parliament would deal with law making, Police, Crime, Defence etc, oversight of regional assemblies and would have the ability to set and raise taxes. An elected Senate would deal with international policy, with oversight over parliament, National parliaments and assemblies and regional assemblies, and all this would be held in check and balance by select and scrutiny committees, both regionally and nationally.

This means you only have to vote three times; locally, nationally and for the senate. It might also arrest the real danger that government by consent of the majority is slowly heading for government created from the apathy of the majority and narrow politics of the minority. Change is needed as we are increasingly getting the Councillors, MPs, party leaders and government we deserve.

One last thing. We need to teach democracy in schools.

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