I wish we had been able to webcast last nights council meeting. If transparency is going to be the way that our citizens hold us to account then we have an obligation to make our deliberations accessible. Many of the old guard bleated away about parliament being televised but it has done away with some boorish behavior. The silly things that elected people say ought to be known to their electors as should the contructive ones. I suspect that webcasting council meetings would give folk cause to weigh their contributions more carefully. You can see what I mean by having a look at Lincolnshire County Council and the webcasts of their meetings here.
Last night was a not a good advert for local democracy. In common with other councils we are up against it. We have a choice either we can rent our garments, weep and wail and head for the barricades or else we can buckle down, constructively engage with the challenge and so do our best for local people.
I was listening to a Labour Leader from the NE at the LGA conference. He did not agree with the governments approach to the deficit reduction but he was not in denial about the need to reshape the way local authorities went about there business. He freely admitted that when he went to Labour Party Conference and argued the case he upset his comrades in the trade unions. His line was straight forward: 'I would not run my own business in an inefficient way so why should the state waste money by being inefficient?'
The proposition that he was endorsing was the 'big offer' that local authorities are making to government namely that all the public spending in an area should be put into one pot and under the democratic leadership of the council, local priorities should be established and those combined budgets should be used to achieve them. Estimates vary about how much this would save-the LGA reckon £22.5billion over a parliament. The more radical the decentralisation the greater the savings. There are certainly many duplications and frontline and back offices that could be stripped away. This process would see less staff-hence the difficulties the Labour Leader was encountering-but when times are hard there is no justification for spending taxpayers money inefficiently-well it's not just when times are hard that we should seek to spend wisely.
ha'penny-in fact if you had given them a tiny push they had a thousand new ways that the state ought to expand its activities. To them Liam Byrne's note left at the treasury was never written. They simply had no handle of the scale of the debt. All their certainties were being challenged and they some how felt the louder they repeated their dogma the more it would become true. They persuaded no-one. Now there are some quite legitimate challenges to the economic policy of the government. But none of them rest on the notion that we don't have to face up to significant cost cutting. There would have been some credibility in Labour's position if they could have illustrated where the £50billion of cuts in Alister Darling's budget were going to fall? Until they convincingly answer that question all the renting and ranting does no amount to a hill of beans.
As always the only contribution of substances for the Tories come from the beleaguered Sir Ron. He is a unreconstructed Thatcherite. I have met many like him these past few days. They simply cannot comprehend what Cameron is playing at. They are convinced that it is all going to fall to bits. I was in a room this week when the the speaker asked the audience how long they thought the coalition would last. The room was split fairly evenly between between those who thought less than 3years and those who thought more. One thing was clear-the Tory Right believed (and hope) it would last one year. They hate it. Why are they being constrained. Why have they had to raise taxes on unearned income? Ken Clarke is a bounder reversing Howard's penal policy-all the Liberal's fault, and as for the Home Office they've gone all pinko, splutter splutter, pause for water, what is this about letting gays into Britain etc etc.
Now Sir Ron has no problem with deficit reduction. I doubt he is even troubled for a nano second about the dangers of a double dip recession. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he was one of those Tories who objected to greater bank regulation.
One thing that is constant in Sir Ron's speeches are his jibes at Liberals. I've been listening to them for over thirty years. I first heard him confidently prophesy the annihilation of our party when we had only three councillors in Sefton and Sir Ron led a group of over 30. He told the same jokes and recycled the same insults when we grew to nine. It would not last, the electorate would see through us and return to the Tory fold. When we reached double figures he did not change the record. He did not pause to rethink his prejudices but told the same stories year after year. As you can well imagine the speech is well rehearsed, the timing of the jokes is perfect. Year after year as our number grew and the Tories declined he made the same assertion untroubled by the reality of the electoral disaster that was Sefton Tory Party. We have now reached the point where in Southport last time out they lost every seat in the town except Sir Ron's (and we came mighty close to that) and still Sir Ron is tribally loyal to stories of Tory hegemony that he learnt in a different era and still recycles his old jokes. The whole span of Sir Ron's political life has coincided with the collapse of his party locally and yet he has not altered one jot of his thinking. In many ways he has more in common with that wing of the Labour Party which longs to fight under the 1979 manifesto and believes that if they did so with conviction they would win.
If the public should have logged on and watched last night I'm sure they would have been impressed by Sir Ron's eloquence- even if few long to embrace his political narrative.As for the Labour party, strip away the bluster and the question still lingers-where would they cut the £50 billion out of the budget they promised?