Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sell drugs at school - get paid £1750 by Torbay council!

A couple of weeks ago the newspapers were full of the shocking story that an expelled school pupil was likely to be given £1750 by Torbay council.

This ‘penalty’ payment was to be made because the local education authority were unable to find him another school immediately after he was expelled from Churston Grammar for drug dealing. During the few weeks he was without a school the council didn’t send him a home tutor. The Council will make the payment because the Ombudsman has ruled that they have to.

At the heart of this outrage is the fact that Councils are increasingly not controlled by locally elected councillors, but by a growing army of inspectors and ombudsmen who have the power to force councils to do what the Government (or rather, John Prescott) wants whether local people support them or not.

Around 80% of the money given to councils by the Government is ‘ring fenced’ for uses that the Government has decreed. This can be to an amazing level of detail – so that funds are available, for instance, to build new school buildings but not to repair the existing ones and spend the difference on books, extra teachers or playing fields.

The Government have learned that they can force councils to do their bidding; Labour are bullying local people to pay more in Council Tax and forcing their elected representatives to spend the money they way the Government want and not the way local residents need.

This is a big reason why local politics often ends up in petty and futile squabbling over procedure instead of useful, meaningful argument over local issues – because a lot of the time the local politicians have become powerless.

I hope that our leaders frequent commitments to return power to local communities is backed up by firm policies before the next general election that actually do so.

That is certainly what I will be working hard to achieve.


Barrie Wood said...

And it was the Tories who introduced the strangehold over local government by altering the way councils are financed. Local councils should primarily raise much if not all their own funds and be held accountable for such locally.

It is a farce that both Lib Dem and Tory leaderships locally have had to plead the case for more money for the bay with Labour government ministers. Phil Woolas an MP for Oldham was voted for by no-one in Torbay and his party garners few votes here, but his say is pivotal to the final settlement granted from central government. This is not democratic at all. Ditto the array of central government diktats, regulations, targets and capping put upon local councils of every colour.

Secondly, it was a Tory government that brought in the regressive Council Tax - hot on the heels of the hated Poll Tax - that hits the lowly paid and senior citizens particularly hard.

Thirdly, it is the Tories as well as their Nu Lab counterparts that seek to remove schools from local democratic control and introduce further flexibility for selection by ability.

Frankly Labour, but especially the Tories, have hit upon 'localism' as their next new 'big idea'. However, Liberals [and Greens to be fair] believe in it instinctively. Devolving power to individuals and their communities is a core Liberal belief. Nothing David Cameron has said or done suggests it is true of the Tories also.

Good analysis Marcus but a centralising party like yours is unlikely to deliver - the Tories just don't in their bones support 'localism'.

Marcus Wood said...

I agree, Barry, that it was consecutive Conservative and Labour Governemtns who are responsible for the central control over Councils - Started with Heath in the 1974 local Government act; added to by Labour (Denis Healy needed to stop councils borrowing money under the terms of his IMF loan in 1978); Mrs T because she didn't trust the Left wing extreme councils like Sheffield; and Blair has just continued that trend.

BUT when the council tax was introduced it was under £200 for a band D home in Torbay; and cheap enough that 'ability to pay' wasn't an issue - the banding was considered enough to protect lower income houses.

The new localism we aspire to doesn't neccessarily mean making councils more powerful. Plans for localising control of schools (to which you refer) decentralsises power to local parents via the school governing bodies, for instance; bypassing the local council bureaucracy.

I agree that we need to persuade voters that we are serious about this. I am; and as a candidiate I do have some minor input.

Barrie Wood said...

Do you therefore agree with me that some form of local taxation should finance local councils to free them from central government interventions of the type we've both described ?

On schools I believe in the comprehensive ideal and good schools for all wheras the Tories are still fixated upon choice and selection, with - by default - schools choosing pupils rather than vice versa.

It will be interesting to see what model of financing your party chooses to finance local government if David Cameron has the courage to disown the council tax that was your party's creation.

Ability to pay is now a very real issue. CT has become something of a stealth tax rising way beyond cost of living income rises.

On a slightly different tack I really do take a genuine interest in your Social Justice Commission and, to be fair, his active engagement in such issues over recent times makes me hope IDS can challenge some of the assumptions held by sections of your party.

The above is necessary if your are to begin to connect with our great cities again, especially the most impoverished areas. Without some support in urban areas you are doomed with regard to national office.

For example in Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Leicester, Sheffield et al it is the Lib Dems that are the alternative to Labour.

I look forward to your views on your party's policy development as it unfolds.