Here is a recent article by Graham Allen who is the Labour MP for Nottingham North and the Chairman of the House of Commons’ Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee. Before coming out with the usual tired Regionalism he makes this striking statement:-
“England is the last country in the empire – still ruled, like some untrusted colonial backwater, from Whitehall. As Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland enjoy the fruits of devolution, England remains the most centralised country in western Europe.”
As Jeremy Paxman once said we English are living in the “Scottish Raj”. Although it is true that Scots are hugely over-represented in the British Government; and the British political and media class I think that the colonialism in question may be more of a British structural and institutional issue rather than one that is nationality based.
The characteristic of “Britishness” for years now has been an over centralised state which is obsessed with administrative considerations to the exclusion of all others (like democracy, peoples’ feelings of community, etc.).
The article first appeared in Public Servant magazine and here is the link to the original. Click here >>> http://www.publicservice.co.uk/feature_story.asp?id=21852
Here is the text of the article:-
England: the last country in the Whitehall empire19 December 2012
Local government has been little more than the delivery arm of Whitehall. Now it must be allowed to get on with finding solutions to local problems and stimulating community growth, says Graham Allen
England is the last country in the empire – still ruled, like some untrusted colonial backwater, from Whitehall. As Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland enjoy the fruits of devolution, England remains the most centralised country in western Europe.
But it doesn't have to be like this. In a recent debate in parliament I argued that independence for local councils is a powerful answer to what we are now calling the English question: what form should devolution take in England now that other nations in the Union have their devolved settlements?
Local government is ready to start its own exciting and challenging journey of independence. As we look across our borders and see the legislative and financial powers available to the devolved legislatures and assemblies, English citizens are right to start asking: "If Wales can agree to provide free prescriptions, why can't my city or my region?" If local government were independent, local areas could make that choice for themselves – and local elections, local parties and local interest would be rejuvenated at a stroke.
The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, which I chair, is conducting an inquiry into the prospects for codifying the relationship between central and local government. The committee did not simply want to produce another lament about local government's lack of autonomy, so we commissioned a draft code from an academic expert. The draft code would fundamentally alter the balance of power in the relationship between central and local government, making local government an equal partner with a guaranteed share of the income tax yield. This would mark a huge change from the present situation where local government is little more than the delivery arm of Whitehall.
The committee has received a record 90 responses to its consultation on the draft code, most of them from councils or councillors eager to be able to enact solutions that develop their communities, rather than have top-down solutions imposed on them by central government.
Alongside LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell, I have also been running a campaign for independent local government to raise awareness of the draft code. Travelling around the country, we have been overwhelmed by the support for the principle of localism.
Unless the rights of local government are codified in statute in a way that successive governments cannot easily repeal, power will always drift slowly back towards the centre. Local government should benefit from constitutional protection and be given an inviolable right to exist. This is something that local government in most other European countries takes for granted. We are the odd ones out.
The coalition government has said that it wants to see a radical shift in the balance of power, and more decentralisation. The commitment to localism is laudable, but much remains to be done to make this aspiration a reality and to give it permanence. City deals are an important new step in allowing city regions to set local priorities, but we have to ensure that areas suffering from economic deprivation can also involve themselves in the localism agenda to improve their communities.
Despite the best efforts, the Whitehall default position of micro-management automatically produces legislation which further centralises power. To take just one example: £150m is being nationalised from the local early intervention grant. Whitehall just can't help it. We need to stop the centre from meddling in matters that are best decided locally. Temptation has to be put beyond its reach. That way, local government will have the scope to put forward the solutions that best suit local areas and local economic circumstances.
An amendment to the Parliament Act would be the simplest way to protect a new settlement for local government. The draft code, which can be found on the committee's website, does not pretend to be perfect. It would need work in order to be turned into statute, but it encompasses the broad principles of equality and autonomy that are essential for a harmonious working relationship to flourish. It is a start, an important step in the right direction. I want to create a dialogue among citizens across England about what independent local government could do for them.
In the current economic climate, it is clear that central government cannot provide all the answers for growth and prosperity. Giving those who are experts in their local areas the independence and the power to shape and develop the future of their communities is paramount to a successful economic recovery.
This article first appeared in Public Servant magazine