TONY NEWMAN, the leader of the Labour group on Croydon Council, says that it is long overdue for powers to be returned to local councils so that they can take responsibility for their communities
After serving as an elected local politician since 1994, both in administration and opposition and under governments of both parties, it is clearer than ever that the real power in this country remains firmly in the hands of the civil servants in Whitehall.
The central London-based civil service that was set up to govern an Empire, mercifully no longer has any say in how the rest of the world is run. It also has little say now in how Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are governed.
However, this has left a monolithic structure in Whitehall that, in the absence of anything much else to do, seeks increasingly to micro-manage every decision in every town and borough in England.
So among the many exciting policy announcements coming out of Labour’s conference in Brighton, one that will get little or no attention but is very welcome is Ed Miliband’s decision to put in place a “local government taskforce”.
Those called to serve on this body include the leader of Manchester Council, the elected mayor of Hackney and the leader of the Stevenage borough council, a real cross-section of local governance structures. The taskforce’s remit is to review and redefine how a Labour government will work in real partnership with local government, and not again retreat to the default option that “Whitehall knows best”.
In Croydon, I have committed an incoming Labour administration to being both open and transparent, but we must go further and look at how we can devolve decision-making and budgets to a local or perhaps area-based level and genuinely empower people to take the decisions that affect the communities in which they live.
We will do this because it is the right thing to do. It is clearly not the best way to govern a town the size of Croydon by deluding ourselves that can now be achieved by diktat from the Town Hall, something that has become the case under Jon Rouse and Mike Fisher.
So I look forward with a passion to a Labour government that will truly devolve power to local people and local communities, because we in Croydon know best the needs of our population in terms of issues such as housing, transport and, of course, the environment. It is simply not acceptable that decisions about major housing developments locally are taken by faceless, nameless civil servants or key decisions about projects such as future tram extensions remain hidden in locked draws in Whitehall.
To reconnect local councils and democracy with local people, we have to trust again local politicians to take the “big” decisions that impact on the communities we represent. If we do that, then perhaps more people will bother to vote in local elections and more people will put themselves forward to stand in council elections as we attempt to make local democracy truly relevant again.
Coming to Croydon
- Three plays in a pub: The Ship, Sep 24
- Old Coulsdon Residents’ autumn meeting: Sep 26
- Have a cup of coffee and help fight cancer: Sep 27
- Help break the chains of human trafficking: Sep 28
- Multicultural entertainment, St James the Great: Sep 28
- Tea at Five at the Spread Eagle: Oct 2-4
- Minster’s musical celebration for Silver Sunday: Oct 6
- Rent at the Secombe Theatre: Oct 9-12
- Debate the future of arts in Croydon: Oct 10
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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