Good news from Hampshire today - the "Hampshire Senate", which looks remarkably like a county-wide replica of the failed regional assemblies, has buckled under pressure from the TPA and the public and has agreed to hold its meetings in public rather than in secret.
I'm far from alone in being naturally suspicious of any group of politicians and quangocrats who decide things could be run much better by self-selected groups of people in unaccountable organisations meeting - and spending taxpayers' money - behind closed doors. They have less need to produce policies the public like, they can spend money like water and at the end of the day if they fail the public are far less able to hold them to account.
The Hampshire Senate has already proved the second of these principals right after its first meeting was initially planned to be an all-expenses overnight stay in a plush hotel. Hopefully this new openness, which should be backed up with fully published minutes, accounts, expense receipts and suchlike, will deter that kind of thinking in future, but the Senate is still far from a good idea.
For a start, it's a duplication of another sub-regional body in the area, the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (which should also be abolished, I might add). Even the Government have already said they are interested in PUSH, not the Senate.
What's more, why should this body and the people who sit on it have any say over the wide range of areas they are set to discuss?
Apparently the Senate wants to tackle climate change, drug abuse, public spending methods and teenage pregnancy to start off with. These issues are important but all are dealt with by huge numbers of departments, civil servants, quangos and other bodies already - what will the Senators be bringing to the table?
The mission as it has been laid out so far smacks of people enjoying the title of Senator and adding to their sense of self-importance by taking on mighty issues irrespective of whether it's a good use of their time and our money. Presumably they'll later move on to raising the Titanic, World Peace and exactly why belly button fluff is blue.
There is no good reason why representatives of SEEDA, the failed Regional Development Agency, or the local military commander should have a vote on teenage pregnancy, sex education, climate change and congestion measures. Arguably a big problem surrounding public policy in this area as it stands is that too much power is already in the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats and inexperienced politicians. That power should be given back to the people and civil society, not gathered at even more expense into yet another layer of government.
The news that the Senate is to be open and on the record is welcome - but that openness will hopefully serve to inform the people of Hampshire clearly and immediately that this is a pointless project that at best will cost money and produce hot air. At worst it will further complicate the tangled web of public sector initiatives and pile more chaos and confusion into a State that needs urgent simplification.
Thanks for reading. If you agree with our campaign for lower taxes and want to know more about the TPA, you can register online, completely free of charge, here.