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Turning accountability on its head

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Mark Easton | 08:32 UK time, Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Once upon a time, if the state machine was not working properly, the cry would go up: "Something must be done!"

And people like me would take that cry and put it to a government minister: "They say something must be done. What are you going to do?"

The minister might promise to tweak the departmental engine, to clean a couple of spark-plugs. In the end, if people didn't like ministers' remedies, they'd vote them out. That was how accountability worked.

Not any more.

This summer, the prime minister explained to senior civil servants how he is replacing "the old system of bureaucratic accountability with a new system of democratic accountability".

Whitehall's mandarins were told their job was no longer "to guarantee the outcomes" in public services. Nor "to directly intervene to try and improve their performance".

Instead, David Cameron said, national government should simply "create the conditions" for public services to improve, "by making sure professionals answer to the public."

David Cameron's Big Society launch - copyright Conservative Party, photo By Andrew Parsons

 

The prime minister is spinning the direction of accountability 180 degrees. From top-down to bottom-up. He promises "the people-power revolution" will change our country for the better. Under the new approach, when challenged as to why public services are not as good as they should be, a minister could legitimately shrug and say: "Don't ask me - I just create the conditions for others."

Accountability won't be driven by opposition politicians, quangocrats, journalists or pressure groups in Westminster. Bang go many of those expensive national bean-counters, beavering away to ensure taxpayers' money is being spent effectively and wisely. Instead, the idea is that pressure will come from the great British public - at local level.

The people will vote with their feet - competition and choice in the provision of schools and hospitals. They will vote with their hands - electing police commissioners. And they will keep tabs on how well things are going because, in what David Cameron calls the post-bureaucratic age where "information and power are held not locally or centrally but personally, by people in their homes", the workings of the machine will be open for all to see - a transparent system of government.

The response from a minister to the demand that "something must be done" will no longer be "I'm replacing the spark plugs". It will be: "The bonnet is open - here is a spanner and a rag."

It is certainly radical - but will it work?

The answer depends on how much we trust the public, how confident we are in the wisdom of crowds.

Stage dive

How much do you trust the wisdom of crowds?

The government believes that lifting the dead hand of central control will cut red tape, save money and inspire innovation.

But some worry that people power will further the self-interests and prejudices of those with the loudest voices, marginalising the vulnerable and widening inequality.

Direct democracy, critics say, produces policies which tend to be unworkable, unconscionable or plain silly.

The government's recent attempts at what's called "crowd-sourcing" have seen websites asking the British people for ideas on how to improve government and save money. Among the responses were proposals to sterilise young girls who "just breed at will", to replace MP housing allowances with tents and, helpfully, a recipe for beef and vegetable casserole. So far, not one idea from the public has translated into government action.

More seriously, though, there is a concern that bottom-up accountability is simply not as democratic as the prime minister likes to claim because the public don't, actually, want the responsibility.

While Westminster buzzes with an impassioned and informed crowd feverishly lobbying ministers on policy, at local level the experience is of a populace apparently too busy or too apathetic to get involved.

School governors, for example, can control millions of pounds in budgets that directly affect local children and yet there are complaints that so few parents are prepared to do the job that often appointments are made without any election at all. Routine local government business rarely suffers from too much public enthusiasm.

It could change. Handed the keys to the machine and conscious that the state intends simply to stand back and watch, citizens may move into the space and quietly take control.

But unless the public can be galvanised, power won't shift to the people. It will wash over them - taking accountability with it.

Comments

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  • 1. At 09:04am on 12 Oct 2010, Kit Green wrote:

    Are we looking at the nonsense that is Californian style voter control of budgets and policies?

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  • 2. At 09:11am on 12 Oct 2010, stanilic wrote:

    Why am I reminded of Chairman Mao and his cry for a thousand flowers to bloom?

    What Mao did with this policy was to encourage all the dissidents in the Party to come out with their ideas, then he rounded them all up for work details and re-education deep in the interior of China.

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  • 3. At 09:45am on 12 Oct 2010, watriler wrote:

    'The People' do not exist. There are individual and social organisations like political parties which have well defined purposes. This cleggmeron stuff is more smoke and mirrors - another set of words to confuse people about a dramatic lurch to the Right in social and economic policy that is clearly on the agenda of this government. When they say more choice (as if we dont have enough) they mean the kind of choice that goes with past privatisation of public utilities where you need a BSc in maths to work out where the advantage lies between 'competitors' We have never been able to choose schools but the day may come where schools are forced to employ marketing or new business managers following the pioneers in local government.

    I dont think this government will give us people a vote or a choice on what cuts we will accept.

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  • 4. At 11:46am on 12 Oct 2010, Peter Galbavy wrote:

    It's basically a load of old rubbish.

    Until the "system" is changed so that those who are paid to deliver public services are actually, personally and individually accountable to those they are supposed to serve, then none of it will make any difference. Changing the council leaders in your local area or nonsense such as voting for the local "Sheriff" is not going to make any difference in reality except to their own self-aggrandising agendas.

    It's the council staff, hospital workers, bin men, police officers etc. that much of the time don't give a flying fig for the public who pays them. And with good reason. They are underpaid, disrepected and regularly called upon to fill in for colleagues who are work-shy lay-abouts and are carried by a small group of core workers.

    Only once we gain back the mutual respect between the public and the civil "servants" will things get better. How do we do this ? I honestly don't know - but it's not the way the Cameron wants, that's for sure. My own initial suggestions would be to bring *everything* possible back in-house, remove all the sub-contractors and the oursourcing. Make people working for public bodies actually work *for* those public bodies. Accountability will increase immediately and there will be less hiding behind excuses about external providers failing to provide, etc.

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  • 5. At 12:01pm on 12 Oct 2010, John Lloyd wrote:

    There seems to be a conflict between the Green report on cutting waste in public services and handing over control of them to the "Big Society".
    For example, in Devon most local authority buying - for schools, for instance - is done by a central buying agency. They buy in bulk so they get best prices.
    When all are fragmented into Academies and "free schools", it's difficult to see that happening.

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  • 6. At 12:13pm on 12 Oct 2010, IandRgb wrote:

    "the prime minister explained to senior civil servants how he is replacing "the old system of bureaucratic accountability with a new system of democratic accountability""

    Some promises made by the Conservative/Libdem coalition could enable people to have more say in public affairs, and allow unwanted policy or law to be vetoed. For instance, in local government the proposal to allow electorates to veto taxation regarded as excessive, or decide about plans for housing, has led to much discussion by local councils. Potentially, any council policy could be put to referendum if a large number of voters support a motion to do this. The Coalition agreement states, "We will give residents the power to instigate local referendums on any local issue".

    A reform group has summarised Con/Libdem proposals about participative democracy, see http://iniref.wordpress.com/ and http://www.iniref.org/conlibdem.html

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  • 7. At 12:15pm on 12 Oct 2010, WiseOldBob wrote:

    Is the proposal to end top-downism and replace it with bottom-upism coming from the bottom, or the top?

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  • 8. At 12:32pm on 12 Oct 2010, jr4412 wrote:

    Mark Easton.

    "..the prime minister explained to senior civil servants how he is replacing "the old system of bureaucratic accountability with a new system of democratic accountability"."

    this PM, and every one of this predecessors. funny thing is, nothing ever improves on the level of the ordinary citizen, go figure.

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  • 9. At 12:34pm on 12 Oct 2010, maliman wrote:

    I wouldn't trust some of my local community to run a bath even with the instructions in large print, so I certainly wouldn't want them running anything important at local level that involved spending cash. Mind you I have the same opinion of politicians at all levels so it's a bit of a no win situation. The problem with volunteers as we all know is that they can unvolunteer if things aren't going the way they want and since they don't have to hand in their notice they just stop turning up. Also it'll get political, which is no doubt what Cameron wants so if you don't agree with the way one group runs things and always get out voted there's no real onus to show any interest. Also unlike local councillors, other than expenses I doubt if anybody will get any financial reward. Incidentally what will the role of a councillor now be and will they be able to justify the expenses the claim which seems to be way more than the average £25,000 that most local govt. employees earn if they're lucky. Lets face it Dave's having trouble trying to sell the Big Society idea to the sceptics in his party some of whome seem to think that it's just a load of B.S. so if he can't convince his own supporters how will he convince the rest of us. I would guess there are areas in the UK where there will be little or no interest in getting involved, so how will he sell it to them. Also I read that the first Big Society meeting that was held was a bit of a farce and ended in a slanging match, shades of things to come I ask myself.

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  • 10. At 12:34pm on 12 Oct 2010, redden wrote:

    We have local democracy: it is called local government and we have the opportunity to vote for our local councillors every 3 or 4 years. Our problem is that central government does not like this local source of power and tries to stop it taking any meaningful action.
    When Cameron and his ilk talk about giving power to the people,they mean taking it away from their locally elected representatives.

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  • 11. At 12:45pm on 12 Oct 2010, afross wrote:

    Right from the beginning this 'policy' has sounded like a way of avoiding paying for civil servants to work on these issues full time, while passing the responsibility for services onto the members of the public with less money, less time and less expertise. It's unquestionable that the voice of 'society' will end up being whichever is loudest, not that which is representative of the community in the vast majority of cases. I'm glad I live in Scotland where my children's schools and the hospitals we use will not be left to the opinionated few to manage.

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  • 12. At 12:49pm on 12 Oct 2010, FuriousGeorge wrote:

    Handing power down to local people is an excellent idea, but how exactly this is to be implemented, what will 'the people' actually have a say on and how will we go about enacting change when we want it?

    Voting for local sherrifs and department leaders is one idea, and certainly a step in the right direction. But why not go further, why not actually give people full control rather than electing someone who has to attempt to fulfill individual wishes?

    Privatisation of many aspects of local government would be a bigger and better step in this direction. Markets/competition for bin collection (and other services) or allowing schools to be run independantly (for profit!) are two very simple examples which would reduce taxation and redistribute control back to the populace.

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  • 13. At 12:50pm on 12 Oct 2010, WrekinAir wrote:

    (5) - no conflict with the Green report - aggregating buying power is what it's all about and nothing stops a 'free school' or Academy sourcing from a local authority purchasing organisation to get the best prices.

    (4) - outsourcing is a mess because central government under Labour imposed so many sets of rules the contracts are more about quantity, targets, top-down monitoring and overwhelming bureaucracy than they are about quality of service at the sharp end - especially in the care sector.

    Cutting the c**p by re-writing the contracts and insisting on the authority doing reliable customer satisfaction surveys (by getting their own managers & staff off their butts and out on the streets as well) will give the people plenty opportunity to express dissatisfaction and make the authority either crack the whip or change the contractor.

    A weakness is the 'pseudo-private' companies that were created by hiving off local authority services but whose situation has various guarantees not linked to efficiency or quality. Unravelling those will not be easy as many were created under Labour authorities who were over-influenced by the trade unions' point of view.



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  • 14. At 12:52pm on 12 Oct 2010, GeorgeBasil wrote:

    Politicians who appeal to the so-called "wisdom of crowds" are just trying to flatter voters.
    There is a wonderful book called "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay.
    Stories about the 'South Sea Bubble' and the Dutch mania for tulips are a great corrective to such nonsense.
    Published in 1841, but still in print.

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  • 15. At 12:53pm on 12 Oct 2010, perdot wrote:

    I think public apathy, if that's what it is, can be excused to a large extent because people have learned through experience that consultations waste their time and effort; their contributions and suggestions have been ignored and sometimes rubbished by those who would do better to listen. Teach them that their views, opinions and suggestions have value and a real chance of changing things and they might return to involvement. I don't know why I'm waisting my time doing this................nobody will read it!

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  • 16. At 12:58pm on 12 Oct 2010, joanna0910 wrote:

    I hate to be a complete cynic, but why change the habit of a life-time, but handing over control to the 'common people' is not one of the Government's greatest ideas. This would only work if folk were actually interested in the goings on of local government and to be brutally honest, they/we aren't. Only a few handful, in fact, would be interested and those few would naturally dominate the agenda and yes, probably side-line a lot of other people's concerns. He who shouts the loudest, gets the attention. I am all for transparency but can you really see the average person on the street getting excited about budgetary matters? Working for a department that monitors its own budget, believe me, it's deeply tedious and pretty boring and that's for people whose job it is. Sorry, just can't see this happening in the real world.

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  • 17. At 1:03pm on 12 Oct 2010, Michael Bolognese wrote:

    Unless this is kept to smaller details I can't see this working. Look at America, where parents are able to have a say in what is taught at schools and they've ended up with several situations where the teaching of evolution has been suppressed. The average person doesn't know how best to run any public service and will just go with what "feels right".

    I support the idea of increased accountability for people, but how about encouraging it in more useful areas? Perhaps encouraging the idea that it is each person's civic duty to learn first aid, for example. I wonder how many could live if we all knew lifesaving techniques. Or even smaller things, like clearing the pavement outside your house if it snows. Perhaps doing it for your neighbours if they are not able to. These things would be far more useful than pandering to those who manage to find an excuse to say "gone to the dogs" several times a day.

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  • 18. At 1:12pm on 12 Oct 2010, John Duuglas Tough-Andrews wrote:

    While I quite like phrases like "the big society" etc I do find it difficult to trust any politician. I am not a Christian, but I do love Jesus Christ. His story shows you can be the truth, show it to the people and have them agree with you, at the time, but later when they have had time enough to ponder, it becomes too much for their egos, and they will decide to crucify you

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  • 19. At 1:21pm on 12 Oct 2010, AnotherEngineer wrote:

    Did I really vote for him? Well really I had no choice!

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  • 20. At 2:21pm on 12 Oct 2010, sjspain wrote:

    Sounds like a recipe for more Doncasters

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  • 21. At 2:55pm on 12 Oct 2010, Dave H wrote:

    I think it's all a ploy - once the people have proven that they can't run the system any better than the politicians, most will shut up and let the bureaucrats get on with it.

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  • 22. At 3:25pm on 12 Oct 2010, Weary Pedant wrote:

    The day they let us tinker with their expense system will be when I believe that 'Big Society' is not just an empty government slogan.

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  • 23. At 3:27pm on 12 Oct 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    laughable.
    if this was true then we would have a drug policy that worked that included alcohol and the country would be better off.
    If this is power to the people what happens when we say we want medical cannabis, we want heroin on prescription to ALL addicts so that they can be removed from crime and treated properly. WE don't want 9 year old boys selling cannabis to each other but instead we want licenced sales via ID which in turn will bring people back into work open up so many new industries. A bit of order in society rather than making us fight our way up through the levels of disorder drugs bring. I have commented about this for many years and each year it grows worse. This is what a growing number of people want because they realise the current basic framework that bonds communities is flawed by the drug acts.

    So i don't believe a word of this it will do nothing for my community and the people we look after..

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  • 24. At 3:56pm on 12 Oct 2010, Mathonwy wrote:

    The idea that choice is a good thing is somewhat confusing to me. A while ago I was at the doctors and was offered a choice of treatments, and it baffled me, I've no medical training, so how can I know what of the options would be best ?

    The same thinking applies to policy, I don't have the knowledge or time to research that would be required to make informed intelligent decisions, so I will not be making contributions to the decisions and I expect most reasonably intelligent people will feel the same on most areas (There are some areas which I may be willing to contribute to as I feel I do understand some issues well enough).

    So having eliminated from the decision process the majority of intelligent people, what we have left seems to be the small group of people who are informed on the area, and those who don't know their limitations and who will try and contribute without a good understanding. Being democratic the uninformed majority over rule the informed minority and we get bad decisions.

    I cannot see how even if apathy doesn't kill the idea outright this can result in anything more than uninformed decisions with only luck to determine if they are good ones.

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  • 25. At 4:42pm on 12 Oct 2010, Kit Green wrote:

    24. At 3:56pm on 12 Oct 2010, Mathonwy wrote:
    The idea that choice is a good thing is somewhat confusing to me. A while ago I was at the doctors and was offered a choice of treatments, and it baffled me, I've no medical training, so how can I know what of the options would be best ?

    The same thinking applies to policy,.....
    ------------------------------------------------------

    You have hit the nail on the head, one of the fundamental problems with a true representative democracy.
    Most politicians just have dogma and self interest.
    Most voters have a real understanding of what is directly around them in their own worlds but next to no understanding about matters that do not effect them directly every day.
    A few voters have wider interests in the world, financially, academically and life education.
    Therefore we can only have governments that are elected on electoral bribery and good presentation of dogma (helped by a self interested media). Nothing to do with whether the policies are good for the real world.
    We should vote by lucky dip. The outcome in the end would still be government by the party anointed of one brand or another.

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  • 26. At 4:50pm on 12 Oct 2010, Ed wrote:

    "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country", said John F Kennedy, in a breathtaking reversal of responsibility. The real question is do we represent parliament or do they represent us? Can the public be deselected? Let's have full accountability back please, this is supposed to be a democracy.

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  • 27. At 4:59pm on 12 Oct 2010, rlsymonds wrote:

    What all this verbiage reduces to is:
    "Don't bother us, we're far too important. Do it yourself!"

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  • 28. At 5:22pm on 12 Oct 2010, jon112dk wrote:

    Sounds like a bit of a scam to me ... government trashes the public services then comes up with some double speak to pretend the quality of the services is nothing to do with the government.

    My view: the ship captain is still responsible if the ship hits the rocks, even if he chooses to sit in his cabin and let a junior office stear the ship. The captain was responsible for that policy.

    (Interesting they SAY no more top down government - yet one of their first acts was to send out an edict saying no more mixed sex hospital wards. I can give several other examples. Sounds more consistent with trying dodge the blame than letting go of the reigns.)

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  • 29. At 5:37pm on 12 Oct 2010, Maturecheese wrote:

    Don't make me laugh. accountability, there certainly isn't any at the moment. If anyone makes public the shocking waste and inefficiencies of a local authority that they work for, they are sacked. This means nothing is ever done to improve the situation as members of the public rarely hear of the daily shocking waste that goes on. Procurement lists are a joke as all they do is raise the price not lower it. If departments could source their own supplies they could get much a better deal and outcome for the taxpayer. Recently a council worker who shall remain unnamed, was about to purchase security cameras for a project premises, when she was informed that she would have to source them from a supplier on the procurement list and guess what? They were three times the price. This is just one example of many and this is just one department in one local authority. That Philip Green was correct, the Government could save Billions by just behaving like a private business.

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  • 30. At 6:01pm on 12 Oct 2010, Jack Rainbow wrote:

    Wonderful! We can let my neighbours take over the library, the local fire service and the local schools. Not to mention the police. When things go wrong, it will be our fault, not theirs for underfunding or failing to create the right conditions. I am already starting to plan for policeless and fireserviceless emergencies; I've resigned myself to a nasty slow death by lack of medicine for my athsma and other illnesses when my neighbours cannot drag themselves away from the TV to manage things in the hospital after their hard 12 hour shift for a pittance. Would you trust your neighbours to run anything other than their bathwater? Because mine are empty-headed and incapable of more than the simplest understanding. We can expect illiteracy among the young to become normative and routine as our schools become holding pens for the young of the underclasses.

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  • 31. At 7:32pm on 12 Oct 2010, Rob wrote:

    There is a strong lack of representation for those who do not go to university here. Let me remind you that going to to university offers a route to higher earnings. So why is it that people want those who do not go to university and as a result do not get higher earnings to partly subsidise those who do go. I know that they get taxed lower rates, but that is a seperate issue involving equality. If you go to university you will earn more so it does not seem unfair to pay to earn that monetary boost. Universities are full of people not taking courses seriously as it's at little personal and high public expense for them to be there and I'm sure if people didn't have to pay the popularity of questionable courses such as media studies would massively decrease.

    University is about boosting future earnings and hence it seems fair for there to be a cost not exceeding the boost they will receive. By the time you hit 18, I do think you can start being accountable for funding your own education. If the government funds people to 25 and then from 65, quite how we break even is beyond me.

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  • 32. At 8:14pm on 12 Oct 2010, Spindoctor wrote:

    These proposals unfortunately will not benefit the wider public, the whole ethos of the "Big Society idea" is for the Government and Local Government to walk away from social responsibility and somehow hope that we "the mugs that pay for it" will pick up the tab for free and at our expense.

    If the Government want to abrogate there responsibilities then they can also stop taxing us for these services.

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  • 33. At 8:48pm on 12 Oct 2010, jon112dk wrote:

    31. At 7:32pm on 12 Oct 2010, Rob wrote:
    ... Let me remind you that going to to university offers a route to higher earnings. So why is it that people want those who do not go to university and as a result do not get higher earnings to partly subsidise those who do go....
    ===============================

    Pretty much like those who go to school and learn to read and write will do better.

    One of the biggest chunks to come out of my taxes, and definitely my council tax, is paying for kids I have never met to go to school.

    Presumably, given that you can read and write, that includes you.

    Should we be stopping that as well?

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  • 34. At 8:48pm on 12 Oct 2010, Marco wrote:

    Mark, I heard you on the 1pm news today saying how much foreigners value degree from British universities. Are you aware of the 'European Credit Transfer' system which does not accept 3 year degree course (or a 4 year course including a year abroad)as a degree but only as a diploma. So as I understand it, if the current British Prime Minister were to go to Spain, for example, the Ministry of Education in that country would not accept his First class degree from Oxford as a valid degree. WHY HAS THIS NOT BEEN GIVEN MORE PUBLICITY IN THE UK? If you don't believe me, do the research!

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  • 35. At 11:14pm on 12 Oct 2010, Bananaland wrote:

    Isn't it wonderful how our elected representatives are so keen on accountability and yet surprisingly reluctant to be accountable themselves. As I recall not one of those so shamefully lining their pockets by manipulating their expenses actually resigned. Who was the last minister to resign from parliament for his/her departmental failings? At best they trundle off to the backbenches until the fuss has blown over. Power to the people - how about for a start a consituency having the right to a by-election if a sufficient number of registered voters request it.

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  • 36. At 00:12am on 13 Oct 2010, ady wrote:

    We need the Swiss style of democracy where a petition can trigger a referendum on a particular policy.

    Would have saved half a billion quid in the case of the Edinburgh trams.
    They changed the rules so we couldn't vote on that one...lol...and wrote a wonderful report expounding the huge level of edinburghs enthusiasm for the tram project and the massive profits it was going to generate.

    They just wanted to get their sweaty little mitts on half a billion quid...and nothing was going to stop them, especially the democratic rights of the local population.

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  • 37. At 00:18am on 13 Oct 2010, ady wrote:

    And now they want to "merge" the tram disaster with our buses.

    We've got one of the best bus services in the entire country, it's one of the few big successes edinburgh council have ever done, and everyone has benefitted.

    My own theory is that the tram people are sociopaths and want to destroy our city.

    Like any mad dog, the edinburgh tram project should be put to sleep for good.

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  • 38. At 11:06am on 13 Oct 2010, Morkris wrote:

    Ady suggest we need Swiss style democracy. Is this the Swiss democracy that voted for a ban on minarets and gave the vote to women in 1971?

    I am by inclination a conservative but the concept of the big society, crowd sourcing (in ancient Rome this was called the mob), and tiny government is uncomfortably close to the mad philosophy of the American far right. The governments use of the financial situation (which is obviously terrible) is starting to sound a bit like the arguments used to set aside normal democracy in times of war. All actions no matter how poorly thought out and patently stupid are prefaced with "Don't you know there is a Labour financial crisis on"

    I am starting to wonder where a rational and intelligent voter has to place a vote. The current parties are expressing all the characteristics of crowd wisdom ie irrational, ill ocnsidered, self interested and completely driven by person prejedudice

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  • 39. At 11:18am on 13 Oct 2010, martin wrote:

    I agree that we need to stop all the outsourcing and bring back accountable employees. Although not directly related. Overseas to apply for a UK visa you need to submit this to a foreign registered company. It depends on your location, but it appears to American in the West and Indian in the East. Passports will be issued in China apparently for British people in the East. All the visa company does is take a huge fee and turn it over to the British Embassy. They do not help the applicant or even offer any advice in filling the form. These are serious documents and need to be brought in-house under total British employee control. There have already been many scandals with these subcontractors. Then we complain we have to pay benefits to the unemployed. Whilst I dealt directly with the British Embassy in my travels around the world I had nothing but good honest service. Now you are treated as a threat by people who foreign subcontractors.

    Martin Prior

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  • 40. At 11:43am on 13 Oct 2010, Marco wrote:

    The coverage by Tim Willcox has been BRILLIANT! With the run down in the study of foreign languages in the UK we might ask what is the point of learning, for example, Spanish. (Spanish is the world's second international language.) This is the reason. We can communicate with speakers of other languages and understand their culture.
    Tim has got to know the families and they obviously like him. What a difference that makes. It's really good too, to hear people's names being pronounced properly!

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  • 41. At 3:33pm on 13 Oct 2010, Whistling Neil wrote:

    All these multiple systems of direct accountability exist as Mark points out - parent governors, local councillors, parish councillors, health trust public committees, MPs.

    In most cases these groups end up in the hands of self selecting people with a variety of motivations.

    If politicans really want to make a start on this then how about this for a suggestion:
    Ban political parties from standing in local council elections - remove politics from the equation entirely. Let local people standing on other platforms as local people, council tax payers alliances, church or community groups stand as they are. Then local people can run the local services, free from the dead hand of their political parties ideology and following the party policy even when it goes against local interests.
    Better still where religious groups are effectively running things they will have to be open about it rather than hiding behind political parties.

    Let the allowances for councillors be removed - expenses only as it used to be before. The those that do it actually want to do it for the service to the community - not for a fat allowances bill which these days seems to be a decent full time salary for what is a part time job.

    This is people power - setting up yet more opportunities fo political party interference is just a waste of time and energy.

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  • 42. At 10:27am on 14 Oct 2010, nautonier wrote:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11536829

    There's a decent UK story for you Mr Easton ... for some balance on your reporting and discussion of relevant issues.

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  • 43. At 10:43am on 14 Oct 2010, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    So does Cameron's definition of democratic accountability include seizing control of the banks and having the government print its own money? That's very democratic and the only way to bring about his people revolution. Someone ask him if the elites plan on relinquishing control of the money supply. Will his actions match his rhetoric?

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  • 44. At 12:33pm on 14 Oct 2010, BobDylan wrote:

    Hopefully this silly, lazy notion will bite Cameron in the arse as viciously as the Back-to-Basics crap that Major dribbled out did to him.

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  • 45. At 4:31pm on 14 Oct 2010, DibbySpot wrote:

    Who does Cameron think is going to run this Big Society?I am not and never have been in the business of buying a dog (unwillingly through my taxes) yet barking myself (doing the job I pay governement a lot of money to do - myself).

    Why will I not support this Big Society? Because I spent 40 hrs a week working and prefer to see my family and friends when I'm not working or sleeping.

    If the Big Society is run by the "usual suspects" of local do gooders it will simply fail since these people generally lack a clue and often come with an unacceptable agenda. Besides most of the competent pensioners I know are either on holiday/living overseas or looking after their gardens/grand parents. The last thing they have any interest in is doing something unless it is for themselves.

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  • 46. At 5:04pm on 14 Oct 2010, Kit Green wrote:

    45. At 4:31pm on 14 Oct 2010, DibbySpot wrote:
    Why will I not support this Big Society? Because I spent 40 hrs a week working and prefer to see my family and friends when I'm not working or sleeping.
    ------------------------------------------------

    I am more and more convinced that those that fall of the end of JSA will be those running the Big Society. There is a repetitive push in job centres along the lines of "have you considered voluntary work?".

    All a ploy to deliver public services whilst circumventing minimum wage.

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  • 47. At 6:09pm on 14 Oct 2010, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    If retirees and others are doing all the work, why would Brits need parliament? The purse strings are key. Who will hold the purse strings in this gandiose scheme? Why isn't this basic question ever answered?

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  • 48. At 7:54pm on 14 Oct 2010, diane wrote:

    There is no mandate for what the Tories (and mini-me Tories the LibDems), the people of this country voted in a coalition to avoid the savagry of a conservative government. They didn't want a Thatherite axe to fall on the country and their way of life. Like riddiculing targets, demonising bureaucrates (back office workers, administrators, receptionists, secretaries, assistants, telephonists etc), they are looking for a way of deflecting responsibility when the finger of suspicion is pointed at them. If there aren't any targets, then they don't have to meet any. Changing the ratio from top down to bottom up is another way of not having to answer why. There'll be no one to research and evaluate the best way of doing things, so they can do what they like. It's disasterous. The inference of the Big Society is that people don't give up their time already, that's a cheek. There are lots of good people out there already volunteering and do their best. The government just wants us to do more for free, after working hard all week and looking after our families. It is now going to put 100,000's of people on the dole. It is setting sections of the great British public against one another, causing confusion and creating anger and hatred against the poorest in our communities. All in the name of what, not for the sake of the country, that's for sure. It's to shrink the state and cut taxes for the richest in our community who think they're hard done by and pay for everything. If their only purpose is the deficit they have lost sight of what is important in the country and what the people of this country want for the future of their children. And I can see nothing there in their agenda that gives me any hope. Like Thatcher before him, Cameron is leading the country to division and despair but no matter how much he tries to cover his tracks, I will know where I will put the blame. I have never forgiven Thatcher (I voted for her ONCE, but only ONCE). Given my experience under her, I will know where to point my finger in spite of the meaningless rhetoric we are subjected to on a daily basis by the smooth-tongued right wing government reigning over us.

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  • 49. At 8:51pm on 14 Oct 2010, GeoffWard wrote:

    48. diane wrote:
    "..There is no mandate for what the Tories (and mini-me Tories the LibDems), the people of this country voted in a coalition to avoid the savagry of a conservative government..."
    ................

    Oh, diane, you know that the Coalition did not appear on the voting 'card'.
    What we ended up with was not not what anybody voted for - NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON.
    Was it a bad outcome? - No, it was the most sensible of a range of options that materialised once the real votes were collated.

    So, please don't pretend that you or anybody else voted for a Conservative - Liberal Democrat Coalition, and please don't second-guess 'the electorate' by ascribing motives - or, in your case, a single motive.

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  • 50. At 11:29pm on 14 Oct 2010, Anna H wrote:

    There's been a big kerffuffle in my town over plans for a home for autistic people - a large number of the most appallingly ignorant and prejudiced objections, from local people who seem to mistake "autistic" for "psycho".

    I'm a mum of an autistic kid and this facility would be perfect my child in a couple of years. But I'm worried that the "Big Society" will mean that local people will have the choice - and that choice will be to discriminate against people like my son.

    Democracy has to be more than the rule by the majority - that might sound fair, unless you happen to be a member of a discriminated, vulnerable minority.

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  • 51. At 11:39pm on 14 Oct 2010, PaulRM wrote:

    One of the fundamental requirements for DC's vision to work is complete FOI, which as we know from Mr Blair's handwringing angst, is about as likely to happen as pigs are to fly. The requirement could not be restricted to "localised" issues as the definition of local and national ceases to have meaning when referenced to the needs and aspirations of each and every person - the key element, it would seem, in DC's devolution of accountability of all publicly provided services to the individual. In truth, what DC is advocating, on the surface, is a kind of Athenean democracy where all are invited to participate in the process of governance. Except I doubt DC is about to give up his control of the levers of power, and rely on "the collective wisdom of crowds".

    The whole thing is stuff and nonesense, and is the result of incredibly muddled thinking as it seemingly incorporates elements of Neoliberalism, Right-libertarianism, Voluntaryism and a whole other bunch of arcane philosophical thinking that normally doesn't see the light of day outside a PPE tutorial.

    On a purely practical note, where does DC think we are all going to get the time to do any of the tasks he wants to devolve. The common experience of most people who have seen volunteering in action is that attracts those with too much time on their hands, and who invaraibly have an over-inflated sense of their own importance. Crucially, where the exercise of real power is involved (especially if money is a factor), the body carrying out the voluntary task/oversight will very quickly become a study in sharp elbows and grubby personal vendettas. As for accountability, both at the personal and public level - Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Cue huge temptations to succumb to the acquisition "personal benefits", and the likelihood of malfeasance.

    As it is, there are a plethora of committees charged with overseeing the provison of public services at the local level that are designed to have lay members on their governing boards. The problem is most of us don't know what they are, who runs them, and who can sit on them. All one can be assured of is that if the remit of the committee involves the exercise of real power, only "the great and the good" will get a look in - placed there by a politician with the clear understanding that some form of quid pro quo will be involved. The rewards for those chosen to serve are self-agrandisement and greater status, en route to the ultimate goal of a more "rewarding" placement, or a visit to the Palace and a gong of some variety.

    And this is what DC wants us to sign up for? In the vernacular "e's 'avin a larf".

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  • 52. At 06:33am on 15 Oct 2010, markuspetz wrote:

    "So far, not one idea from the public has translated into government action."
    That is clearly not true - I suggested one benefit instead of 3 AND also some reform on QUANGOs and that is happening. IN July some QUANGOs were got rid of. Yes there are daft ideas proposed, there always will be - but the gvt is not taking those up. Also announcing and actually carrying ideas out are not the same thing. But it is a spacious argument to claim nothing has been done, because due process is not instant.

    p2p is the new way of doing things: check out the p2p foundation and you will see that government must change too. To be more PARTICIPATIVE NOT ONLY "direct democracy" nor REPRESENTATIVE.

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  • 53. At 10:27am on 15 Oct 2010, xingfantrade wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 54. At 7:20pm on 15 Oct 2010, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    In other words, the government created their own problem and stole all the taxpayers money now their only solution is national volunteerism. Go and claw back all the stolen money first protect it with your life then consider volunteerism. No concessions without the money in your fist. Tell that to David Cameron!

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