Tim Young joins regions debate
By Tim YoungLabourI START from the basis that any form, structure or system of local government must be better than the one we currently 'enjoy'.
By Tim Young
I START from the basis that any form, structure or system of local government must be better than the one we currently 'enjoy'. Living in Colchester we are saddled with the overlapping and inefficient two-tier system of local government where Essex County Council provides some of the services (principally education and social services) and takes most of the council tax (80%) and Colchester Borough Council delivers other services like refuse collection, housing and planning.
This barmy system is confusing and leads to duplication and conflict between the over-large and remote county council and its Cinderella cousins - the district councils. Most residents do not appreciate the split between the two local authorities and assume that their local district or borough council is responsible for everything.
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The answer must be appropriately-sized unitary authorities. My estimate is that a population size of about 300,000 is right which would, coincidentally, be just about perfect for a unitary council comprising of Colchester borough and Tendring district - and the rest of Essex could be combined into similarly sized authorities resulting in five altogether.
The County Council would be abolished and replaced with these unitary councils large enough to wield influence and be strategic and small enough to be able to organise efficient delivery of services and be in touch with their local populations. There may even be an enhanced role for parish and town councils under this scenario making local government truly local. Just changing to unitaries will not be enough on its own.
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The reform agenda has to continue; increasing efficiency through new models for service delivery and contestability; driving down management and administration costs through sharing services and using more modern processes and methods. These reforms will be far easier to put through with less councils and with a proper structure of unitaries rather than with overlapping and competing bureaucracies.
There would, as there always has been, a regional layer on top but these assemblies could continue on the basis of being indirectly elected as at present and with no larger or more significant role than they have now. The boundaries of our region are more sensible now than in previous incarnations and it makes sense to organise police, fire & rescue and health services on this basis.
It is front line services that matter and as long as local divisions are delivering then the size of the strategic umbrella that they work under surely is irrelevant shattering the myths and scaremongering put about by the Conservatives on this subject.
It is time for Britain to get serious about organising local government in a form that is modern and fit for purpose in the 21st century that takes powers away from Whitehall and ensures that local people are served in their best interests by people who know and value the areas they live in and want to make them flourish and thrive.
It is not possible within the confines of the current outdated system that we struggle under at the moment and that is why change is not only necessary but vital.
Tim Young is a Colchester borough councillor for St Andrews ward and is leader of the authority's Labour group