Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Democracy on Government's Terms

Busy day today - travelled 147 miles each way to Wiltshire to present a training course to County and District Councillors on "Working in Partnership". On the face of it, a simple and straightforward session, exploring how we can all achieve more if we establish strong partnerships.

The course was part of a training programme funded by another Government "initiative" and delivered by the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA), an arm's length branch of the Local Government Association.

But, it seems, since the funding for this programme was agreed the Government set about encouraging unitary bids from County and Districts. In other words, whilst funding training to encourage greater partnership working, they were also directly promoting a divisive and antagonistic "winner takes all" scrap between democratically elected local government bodies. A scrap where the only real losers are our local communities.

Against all expectations, Government has accepted Wiltshire County Council's bid for unitary status, and two of the four District Councils - Salisbury, Kennett, North and West Wiltshire - are mounting a Judicial Review of the process.

So an afternoon of walking on eggshells - poorly attended, because "the war" as locals refer to it has left many elected members feel disillusioned and emasculated. The 212 councillors across the County and its four Districts - once the new "Wiltshire Council" Unitary authority comes into being - will be "economised" to just 89. Leaving 123 passionate and energetic local people unable to represent their communities, put out to grass by the latest 'bright idea' from the Number 10 Policy Unit.

Government spends a great deal of time telling us all how local councils should 'join up' to be more efficient, more effective, more local- the phrase "practise what you preach" has never seemed more relevant...

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