What the BBC could have asked
Like many in the public sector (or dependent on it to make a living) I tuned into today’s Politics Show on the BBC to hear the Secretary of State questioned about the Localism Bill whose gestation is almost at an end. I also thought they would apply a bit of a squeeze on the local government settlement also due tomorrow.
I was disappointed on both counts. The Secretary of State was offered a series of easy leg-side full tosses which he had no compunction about heaving over the boundary rope. When a little bit of leg theory was applied – how would state intervention work in an individual’s disposal of his or her assets – you could hear the thump of aspiration into the too solid flesh of reality.
Too much time was spent on the Secretary of State’s views on the frequency of bin emptying. (I never knew that disposing of a person’s left-over chicken tikka was a fundamental human right – outside of Armstrong and Miller, of course.) Blow me down we also had a mention of Winterval again.
Winterval! It is an ex-story. It has ceased to be. It has shuffled off this mortal coil. It is as dead as the parrot. Instead, with the BBC (and others) it seems it is merely resting. True the story exposes the limits of the authoritarian localism of some leading politicians but every time it’s repeated it merely bolsters its credibility.
I would have far preferred the BBC to have tested out how and by whom the tab for all the new localism will be picked up. How can any community exercise a right to do something without the finance? The fact that I have a right to go to Wimbledon does not mean much if I cannot afford the ticket or have the means to get to SW19 in June. Of course I’m a finance wallah so I would obsess about this but money is important.
Another area of interest is around the practicalities of binding referenda on council tax increases. This is going to make life between budget setting and raising council tax bills pretty interesting. How will the question be put in the referendum? Presumably you only want the issue tested once? You don;t want an endless series of ‘higher’, ‘lower’ plebescites? How about – in the interests of equity – giving electors the right to veto a budget with a council tax increase they believe is too small?
Of course I am tempted to wonder if this is a universal principle why it shouldn’t be applied to our national budget as well? Obviously I know why. I know too that some of those objections have equal force locally. Should a local administration elected on a platform have to resubmit its programme to the electorate on the off-chance it might have changed its mind? Will councils be able to spend money to fund a campaign to support their argument? Will anti-rise campaigns have their costs met from the public purse too.
Armchair auditors will have some interesting digging around to do in establishing the costs of all this localism.