Lambeth Council recently sent local residents a consultation document asking how they would like £200,000 left over from the Oval Neighbourhood Enhancement Programme to be spent. “You know your neighbourhood best”, says Councillor Jack Hopkins in a letter to residents, “so we asked you what we should do to make it better”.
Needless to say, giving the money back to residents did not even figure in their suggestions. So much for the co-operative model of local government that was launched back in 2010.
The top five priorities listed in the document are 1) reducing traffic on side streets, 2) planting trees, 3) improvements for children, 4) better pedestrian facilities and 5) making life easier for cyclists. The council insists that “as a co-operative council, we are very keen that residents are involved and influence decisions around what improvements are made in their neighbourhoods”. However noble each individual spending priority is, there wasn't an option to not spend the money and cut Council Tax instead.
It's typical of politicians' mindsets that cutting local taxes is not seen as such an improvement. The whole point of the co-operative model is to give collective decision-making power to the members. But by controlling the range of options given to local people in deciding where their money is allocated, Lambeth is clearly offering its residents a false choice.
The message for local taxpayers is clear: the council will ask you how to spend your money, but only so long as they - and not you - spend it.