Community Empowerment Deadend


Community and Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears has just told Public Finance magazine about her plans to devolve power right down to street level. It makes dismal reading:

"With my own roots in local politics, grounded in the streets and estates of Salford... empowerment... community engagement agenda... real opportunity... police performance regime... operating framework aligned with local indicator sets... etc etc"

Strip away the NewLabourspeak, and the idea is an old one: central government wants "community engagement" in order to cut local councils out of the decision-making loop altogether.


Needless to say, the local authorities are somewhat underwhelmed. The head of the Local Government Association, Sir Simon Milton, says:

"You can’t argue with it – petitions, community “kitties”, empowerment, things of that kind – but if you can’t stop your local post office, or your local GP surgery from closing, then actually citizens will get thoroughly disenchanted pretty quickly."

Nail walloped firmly on head. As we've blogged many times, local councils have very little independent power - they are an arm of Whitehall, largely paid by Whitehall, and therefore forced to play Whitehall's tune. But Blears' vision of street level community engagement would give ordinary people even less power: they'd be even more subject to the whims of Whitehall.


Reality check: as the chart above shows, the UK has the most centralised taxation system of any major economy. According to the OECD, only 4% of our tax revenue is raised locally, compared to around 10% in say France, and 11.5% in the US.


Step one on the road to real community empowerment is to return tax raising authority back to the local level, closer to the people who have to pay.

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