More power for communities?


Here's a new strand of Commons activity to keep an eye out for: guerrilla ambushes by localist MPs, believers in more powers for communities.

They have plenty of opportunities to chip away at what they see as the overweening centralisation of the British state with amendments to bills and carefully crafted policy ideas.

One such idea emerged at this week's meeting of the Commons Backbench Business Committee, when a posse of high-powered backbenchers - Tories Jesse Norman, Rory Stewart and Simon Hart, plus Lib Dem Tessa Munt - called for a debate on a proposal to allow communities to raise money, via the Council Tax, to fund high-speed broadband connections.

Jesse Norman Jesse Norman is one of the MPs keen to promote local agendas

The group is concerned that the current funding to build a national high-speed network is not enough to ensure that remote villages get the connection they need anytime soon.

So they want those communities to have the power to raise money to build the necessary cable ducts, to industry standard, and then rent them out to broadband providers - who would then be required to use them. The group argues that businesses in remote areas need good broadband access, probably more than businesses elsewhere. And with more and more official business like tax returns and social security applications conducted online, those communities are increasingly disadvantaged without a good connection.

Chamber time

So, they say, given them the option of putting up the money to allow their communities to be connected sooner, rather than later.

No debate was scheduled by the committee, which doesn't have all that much time to allocate at the moment - but nor was the idea rejected. And given the impressive and cross-party cast list of MPs backing the idea, I would be surprised if it did not get a primetime outing in the Chamber fairly soon.

And on the subject of localism, some little-noticed remarks by the junior Communities Minister Brandon Lewis, in a Westminster Hall debate on local government leadership on Wednesday, have caught my eye….

Last year, you'll remember, most big cities rejected the idea of replacing their current council set-up with a powerful elected mayor in referendums held in May (the exception was Bristol, which joined Liverpool and Leicester in the handful of major cities outside London to install a mayor).

Mr Lewis has not been put off. Money quote:

"Directly elected mayors can and generally do provide good, strong, clear and visible local leadership. My hon. friend [the Carlisle MP John Stevenson, who led the debate] highlighted that very well in his description of the meeting at the school. He makes a very strong point about the accountability of the role of mayor.

"A directly elected mayor does seem to have recognition in a community that goes beyond that of an elected councillor. There is, therefore, increased - clear - accountability. People understand exactly who is in charge, who is making the decisions, who is accountable. That transparency fits perfectly with the localism agenda with which we are moving forward.

"There is a very strong case on this issue. Research undertaken in 2005 shows that the democratic mandate provided by directly elected mayors has 'provided a basis for a stronger, more proactive style of leadership than other models.'

"We have seen how mayors around the world have reinvigorated their cities. I am thinking of places such as Frankfurt, New York and Lyon. That has also been the case on our own doorstep, in London. The mayors - the office holders - become very well known. That highlights again the clear accountability and understanding of who is responsible, who is in charge. The Mayor of London, particularly, I would say, over the past four years, has transformed the city.

"In the 12 years of its existence, the London mayoral office has been hailed across the world for its influence in raising the profile of the capital and for securing major projects that the city needs, from Crossrail to the Olympic Games."

The government, it seems, hasn't quite let go of the mayoral idea - despite the rebuff from the voters last year.

With Nick Clegg trumpeting the government's continued attempts to devolve powers to big cities, with the second wave of the "City Deal" initiative at the Lords Constitution Committee, also on Wednesday, it's clear there is still some enthusiasm in government for beefing up town halls. The localists may be pushing at an open door.

Mark D'Arcy Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    7.Andrew MacGregor - "......In Oxford money was put aside to install naked flame cookers on religious grounds......"

    Is that really true? I haven't heard/seen anything about it, so don't know for sure, but it has the ring of one of those rumours that does the rounds without being based in fact?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Having had years of involvement in local stuff, Parish Council, clubs, charities, action groups; the problem is finding enough people with the skills, time, and energy to do anything.
    It is also now offputtingly complex to do almost anything due to the checks and procedures to meet this or that government directive.
    We are drowning in a**e covering bureaucracy.
    From Westminster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    They say the want to give more power to local people but yet are looking for 32% salary increase in the same week they have cut benefits
    This just shows they have no interest in people of this country just ways to get us off the sent of there real plans

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    My main concern is that MP's try to influence the way the communities work to favour their own political self interest - getting re-elected. The same will apply to the councillors and we will see funding allocated insanely. In Oxford money was put aside to install naked flame cookers on religious grounds, despite NO religion having this requirement, all this to capture a specific community vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Pandering to the little englander element with the constant promise of referendum options for the EU has weakened the UK both in its influence and its economy. And in most cases, hte EU membership is often confused with other pillars of a peaceful Europe. If you don't want to be part of Europe - leave.


Comments 5 of 10



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