Only one third of us are likely to vote in the May 4th local elections. Is that because local councils are a waste of our time and taxpayers’ money?
One third of us will bother to vote in local elections. Isn’t that because local government is a waste of our time and money?
Hi. I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about local councils and whether they should be scaled down in size and scope.
There are more than 20,000 council seats in the country. But most people couldn’t name their local councillor or even their council leader.
They certainly couldn’t tell you what local government does, distinct from central government. Maybe collecting the bins… managing local parks. That’s about it.
We hear a lot about decentralising political power. The argument goes – too much control in Whitehall is bad, whereas we allegedly want to have local control over decisions that effect our everyday lives.
That’s until those local decisions mean people on one side of a street get some service, which those on the other side do not. Then we complain about a “postcode lottery”.
The truth is we vote for parties based on the standing of their national leadership. And local government is there to take the blame for national decisions that are implemented locally.
But local councils have virtually no independent power. Just follow the money.
Last year, local government had £94 billion of revenue.
Only 28% came directly from council tax.
12% came from business rates.
3% from local charges, like parking fines.
But the vast majority, 57%, came from grants from central government.
So, Downing Street has firm control over the purse strings.
Local government employs two million people. A vast army administering a system devised to be unnecessarily, labour intensive.
It would be more honest if we paid people to dig holes in the road; and others to fill them back up again.
Those jobs would be equally valid, macro-economically speaking.
For example, every council has a massive accounts department, collecting council tax. If we had a 3%
Local Income Tax and collected that through the existing PAYE system, it would not cost HMRC a extra penny to collect and distribute this money.
The rate could even vary according to your local council, by adding a marker to your tax code, based on where you live.
Instead, among the millions of council workers, the bosses aren’t shy of grabbing their personal slice of our money.
More than 539 town hall fat cats pay themselves salaries greater than the Prime Minister. That’s £150,000.
The highest paid is in one of the poorest areas of the country… Sunderland. Its Chief Executive got £625,570.
Let’s take a look at how they spend the rest of the money…
31% goes on education.
20% on social care, split between the elderly (13%) and children (7%).
19% on Housing Benefit.
12% on roads, transport, fire and public safety.
10% goes to the police.
And the rest (8%) on things like parks and museums.
I say – let’s take away many of these key responsibilities and give the money directly to the people… us.
This is truly de-centralising power. Remove a whole tier of bureaucrats from the delivery of key services.
Instead of £34 billion of national taxes going to councils to spend on schools… give parents vouchers for £6,000 per child, which they can spend at a school of their choice.
All schools become independent, self-governing trusts and local councils are totally removed from running schools or employing teachers.
Instead of giving councils £14 billion to pay for elderly care, again, give the money in the form of vouchers directly to pensioners to spend at private care homes.
Local councils have a shameful record managing social services for children. This should become a single national agency.
Housing Benefit can be managed by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Altogether, this removes three quarters of local government expenditure. We wouldn’t need so many elected councillors or council employees.
I can already hear squealing from the big public sector unions. You see: where there is a monolithic state supplier of services like… schools, terms and conditions of all teachers are decided in one room between unions and government.
If you fragment supply, you also break the monopoly power of the big unions, who’s whole reason for existing is to minimise workload, maximise salaries and prevent change.
So, special interest groups will join forces to try to prevent anything like this from happening. But it would undoubtedly be good for consumers and taxpayers.
I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.