This is no Oxymoron

Yesterday I heard an inspirational speech from a member of the Shadow Cabinet. Yes, honest, I did. Don’t stop reading. I am not fibbing. Central office did not ask me to write this.

When I went to hear Caroline Spelman talk about the future of local and regional government in England I did not expect she would blow my socks off with her vision. But she did, in her gentle, understated way.

Listening to her, I saw in my minds eye the democratic cavalry massing on the hill. She wishes to sweep them down onto the battlefield after a General Election victory , to remove bureaucracy, waste, and hated regionalism. Just listen to this:

Unelected Regional assemblies – abolish
Select Committees for the English regions – abolish
Regional housing quangos – abolish
Regional planning quangos – abolish
Regional spatial strategies and housing targets – abolish
Targets and surveillance of Councils by Whitehall and regional government – abolish
Many of the specific grants – abolish – to be replaced by general grant
Council Tax capping – abolish

What would happen if a Council performed badly? The electors have to sort it out by voting for a change. What would happen if a Council wished to put the tax up too much? They would need to win a vote to do it.

Brilliant Caroline. We will save billions by sweeping away this hated regional bureaucracy and the panoply of regulations, guidance, controls and checks national government imposes on Councils.

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62 Comments

  1. Andrew Duffin
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    I don’t wish to appear cynical, but will it not turn out in practice, that all those “regional” things are in fact required by various EU directives and no British government will be able to abolish them?

    • Deborah
      Posted March 13, 2009 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      perhaps leaving the EPP is the first step to change….

  2. Ian Jones
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I do hope so but suspect the prospect of so much industrial action will reduce the scope of change to the public sector that is required to bring it under control.

    The unions have had their way for 11 years, they will not give up easily!

    • michael mcgrath
      Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      I seem to remember something similar being said about margaret thatcher and the miners…

  3. Alfred T Mahan
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Yippee! But it’ll cost a lot of political capital just when there are huge other demands on it as well. What’s the betting that this impressive list is watered down to gestures as other priorities take precedence?

    Incidentally – I think the biggest item here is the replacement of specific grants by a single general grant. As a local authority contractor, the skewing of decision-making by the present system is simply staggering.

  4. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Thanks for telling us or we wouldn’t have known. Any press releases issued? I hadn’t noticed anything in the press. Is this a sign that your party wants an election sooner rather than later? Recently it has seemed that your party has been happy to be spectators as the public is mugged day by day by Brown and the other incompetents. We want and need a general election at the earliest opportunity before the injured bodies become corpses.

  5. A. Sedgwick
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Abolish local government in education.

    • Waramess
      Posted March 12, 2009 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Abolish Government in education!

      • Stuart Fairney
        Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        Which is almost completely do-able herewith;

        1. All schools become self-governing trusts and to sweeten the pill, I might give the existing teachers a percentage ownership (may make capitalists out of them yet!)
        2. Abolish all local education authorities and the department of education em masse along with all school inspectorates ~ I don’t need a government inspector to tell me that Waitrose is generally regarded as more up-market but more expensive than Lidl, nor should I in schools.
        3. Look at the existing schools budget and take 80% of that, divide by the number of kids in education, give them all a voucher to spend where they like
        4. Exempt schools from local authority control of planning regulations as the better ones would need to expand fast as the crappier ones closed when actual choice was available to all. (I fear some councils would try to frustrate this by not letting the better ones expand).
        5. A few thousand secure places in juvenile detention/education facilities ~ watch behaviour improve rapidly if they know there is a really scary penalty

        Now if you can get the shadow education secretary to say that…

      • chris southern
        Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        That’s a big HELL YEAH, derfinately agree.
        goverment should keep it’s social engineering to it’s self.

        • Adrian Peirson
          Posted March 12, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

          where do add my signature to getting the Govt out of my childrens lives.
          My boys tell me they are not allowed to play bulldog or even put their arms around each other at play time.
          They are trying to get our children used to Govt telling them waht to do, so when they are adults, they will just accept it as natural.

    • John Moss
      Posted March 12, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      That will be the effect of the Voucher proposal. LEAs will be left with a residual role acting in loco parentis for children in care – can’t see any other role for them.

  6. The Ink Slinger
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    All good news, John.

    But what really made us smile today was Messrs. Hague and Francois’ trip to Brussels.

    That’s inspirational.

  7. Man in a Shed
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    That post was just in time to save me a half hour trawling the Internet for links on just such Conservative policies and to explain why those who want England’s identity and and its democratic revival should work though our party.

    (Let me add a ‘not a central office sock puppet’ guarantee here also).

  8. oldrightie
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Manna from heaven for us oldrighties. Would it happen? Just some of these implemented would be a good start.

  9. rugfish
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Thank Eric Pickles as I think he had a little to do with this, but yes, Caroline Spelman is perfectly capable I feel and right behind progression of commonsense policies. Good luck to her.

    HOWEVER!

    I’d also like to hear that payoffs, golden handshakes and the like will not be paid too generously, and that pensions will nor be adding to the country’s ailing bank balance. Or should that be overdraft!

    As for the EU. This will likely place us head on with it, so I’m also happy about that.

    Now all we need is for ‘someone’ to tell us that the FSA will be torn down shred by shred, and its regulatory garbage, pulverised along with anything else which stands in the way of business to help this country recover back to where it was 12 years ago before Brown destroyed it with his mindless, so called ‘controls’, by officious nitwits like him who are without a clue about business, home-life, how to build an economy, how to help people save, or how to do anything much except make piles of paper with reams of rules on it. Namely, its 90,000 EU Directives which are no earthloy good to man nor beast, nor to our economic survival.

  10. Cliff.
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Good News John, it sounds like sense is returning to some sections of our party at long last.

    Now the only other regional thing we need to get rid off, is The British Isles being a region of the EUSSR socialist superstate. We must remain an independent self governing nation outside of the EUSSR political project, but trading freely with it, as how the project was sold to us back in the early 1970s….Any chance of that, then I really would be a happy bunny:-)

  11. Acorn
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Fine words from Caroline but your party will have to redefine local government and how you intend to finance it. The current system is a mess. Have a look at

    http://www.statistics.gov.uk/geography/admin_geog.asp

    You may have noticed that there has been a subtle shift in local government financing going on for the last six years. The revenue support / general government grant is being reduced and replaced with the redistributed (national) business rate. Add to this the current legislation to introduce a supplementary business rate and you get a clue as to where this government is going.

    You may also have noticed that there is little mention of schools in the notes issued with your recent Council Tax demand. Schools are now separately financed by central government (Dedicated Schools Grant). The local education authority employees in your council are ring fenced from other council activity. They are now local operating units for the Dept of Children Schools and Families. So much for “local-ism”.

    BTW John. Having spent two weeks in the US, between ski runs I have been impressed to find how much better informed opposition members of Congress are on what is going on. They appear to get access to the same data that the government side do. And; would you believe it; opposition members can actually get things changed in proposed legislation, amazing.

    • Stuart Fairney
      Posted March 12, 2009 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      Oh for weak whips and political representatives who are accountable to their constituents not their party…

      • Deborah
        Posted March 13, 2009 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        Swop “rarely used” for “weak” and I’ll vote for that

  12. Neil Craig
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    80% of council spending is paid for from the Rate Support Grant. Looks to me like if the Conservatives stand by all that & promise not to reduce the RSG a lot of councils could reduce council tax to zero.

    I think that would be popular.

    If, over time, the RSG was increased with inflation but brought to a fixed sum per per inhabitant (probably about £2,000) irrespective of how much the council had previously spent there would be a very sharp divide between those councils charging zero council tax, probably but not certainly Conservative ones, & those charging actual or even high rates. I think the public would find that instructive.

  13. Tally
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Scotland’s one time first Minister Jock Mconnell once said ” they’ll (the English) will have to regionalise sometime”. This is wonderful news.

  14. Tally
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    not to forget the late Robin Cook who said “England is not a country, you’re a collection of regions”
    Thanks for nowt Robin, where ever you are.

    • Stuart Fairney
      Posted March 12, 2009 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

      Times like this, I wish I was not an aetheist!

      No country in Europe has a greater claim to being a homogenous country than England by virtue of our island nature and long, unconquered history. (Paradoxically, I say this as a Welshman).

  15. Stephen Gash
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    The English regions are just fine-fodder for the EU.

    I would like to know how many countries outside England (yes England, not the UK) have been fined by the EU. More importantly, I would like to know how many countries, other than England, have actually paid fines, assuming of course any fines were made.

  16. E Justice
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Let us pray the Conservatives are getting their Backbones again,and are starting to “Think of England”

  17. Ian Campbell
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    This clean sweep of regional bureaucracy will not only improve democracy in England it will save money. It is not ‘big government’ that will create jobs and bring us out of the recession but less government with more money and choice in the hands of the people. The people of England do not want regions. Who cares what region he or she lives in? Some people neither know nor care.
    It is a pity that Ken Clarke has not been quite so radical in his proposals for constitutional reform. It is daily becoming more absurd that MPs from Scotland, Wales and N Ireland should be voting on English domestic legislation. There is a tendency north of the border for Scots to refer to the ‘English government’ at Westminister. Would that it were so!

    Reply: What matters is not Ken’s recommendations, but the commitments the Leadership make. This is why the Spelman speech/document is important.

  18. Demetrius
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    If only….

  19. chris southern
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    sounds like Caroline Spelman has been reading THE PLAN 🙂
    excellent news John, it’s cheered my day up imensly.

  20. Rich
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    John, I’d like to bet you a thousand pounds that even if the Conservatives win the next election, none of this will actually happen

    • Stuart Fairney
      Posted March 12, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      If they get an overall majority, then I’ll have a thousand with you that at least one (the abolition of the regional assembys) happens in the first term.

      Then again, that might buy us a pint each in a few years time!

  21. Mike Wilson
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    But what can we do here in Wokingham if we are unhappy with the performance of the councillors? When was the last time the council was run by anyone other than the conservatives?

    It shows how threadbare our ‘democracy’ is. The majority of people in this country are effectively disenfranchised.

    I was born and grew up in an area where a Labour MP had been returned since the Labour party was created.

    I now live in an area where … let’s see … when WAS the last time that Wokingham had a MP who did not represent the conservative party?

    Reply: Wokingham Council was run by the Lib dems a few years ago. There are no “safe” seats. People are only re-lected if enough think they are worth voting for.

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted March 12, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      No disrespect, but you could put a monekey in a boiler suit up as the parliamentary candidate for Wokingham and they would still win.

      The bankruptcy of our current political system is perfectly illustrated by the fact that in many areas Labour and the Conservatives do not field candidates for council elections.

      I have never found a Labour councillor on my ballot paper – since living in the Wokingham area.

    • alan jutson
      Posted March 12, 2009 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Yes I remember the mess, so do many others, that is why the Conservatives are back in control.

      No they are not perfect, far from it, but at least they seem to live on the same planet, and during the last few years when the Funding Grant from Central Government has been reducing on a percentage basis to the Council, the Council Tax increases have been modest, although this type of tax is still too high.

      Shame they invested money in Iceland though, although I am given to understand Government advice was that it was safe to do so at the time !!!!!!!

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted March 12, 2009 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      I was born and brought up in Orpington, a safe seat for any Conservative MP, or so everyone thought until the famous Liberal victory!

  22. Victor, NW Kent
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Commonsense usually does add up. Of course we must clear away these institutions and practices, even those instituted by the Conservatives but especially almost every type of regional regulation that Labour has introduced.

    As far as EU fines are concerned we should do what France does and simply refuse to pay. When France was fined over its boycott of British beef the fine was not paid. Yet France is supposed to be very much more inside the EU than is the UK.

    I think we pay fines every year because DEFRA does not send out farming subsidy money in good time – we pay it.

  23. steve
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    McLabour manifesto:

    England – abolish

    http://img1.abload.de/img/broonwhenigrowup6jd.jpg

  24. Duyfken
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    To remove waste, we also need squeaky-clean MPs.

  25. John of Enfield
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant.

    I hope this augers well for the treatment of the rest of the Quangos.

    When you think about what to do about ALL the Quangos (not just the ones you mention) you start by thinking what can you cut away, then you eventually move on to think what can you save and then you quickly come to this conclusion, just close them down, completely.

    I hope & pray that this philosophy will be applied by all other ministries next year.

    It probably saves one billion £ p.a. in direct costs and much more in terms of interference with our daily & business lives.

    This strategy has my vote.

  26. Jim Pearson
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Lovely news, fits nicely with the education ideas that were outlined the other day by your colleague, Michael Gove. I know the BBC are unlikely to give it any airtime, but surely you could get this info out into the wider populace. Until the tories can get their message to the public, Labour will still garner large support. What about sending every voter in the country these plans and others, through the post, or commissioning a TV programme. Just a thought. Keep up the good news!

  27. Adrian Peirson
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    And if they can tear up Magna Carta, Common Law and the Bill of rights, IE our British constitution, which was in fact the envy of the World, why can’t we just tear up Lisbon, Mr Cameron appears to have some problem with this.
    If he needs a demo, to show how it can be done.

    I will happily oblige, if someone would put me at the front of the queue.

  28. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    We need far more of this. It cannot be aforded or wanted layer after layer of government.

  29. Graham Hamblin
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    There is only one thing I look forward to hearing from your party, John, and that is their plans for leaving the European Union in order that all these matters can be decided by the elected parliament in Westminster.

    Having always voted Tory, with the exception of voting for Harold Wilson’s con in 1975, I don’t intend to again until they start making noises in that direction.

  30. Mr A.D.Dagger
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    What a shame Ms Spelman forgot to add ‘and we will create an English Parliament’

  31. Mike Wilson
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    But what can we do here in Wokingham if we are unhappy with the performance of the councillors? When was the last time the council was run by anyone other than the conservatives?

    It shows how threadbare our ‘democracy’ is. The majority of people in this country are effectively disenfranchised.

    I was born and grew up in an area where a Labour MP had been returned since the Labour party was created.

    I now live in an area where … let’s see … when WAS the last time that Wokingham had a MP who did not represent the conservative party?

    Reply: Wokingham Council was run by the Lib dems a few years ago. There are no “safe” seats. People are only re-lected if enough think they are worth voting for.
    OH! You’re my new favorite blogger fyi

  32. Derek W. Buxton
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks for the information, I have not seen it mentioned anywhere else. Now I just hope the party does what it says on the tin.

    Derek

  33. Dave B
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I recalling listening to a recording of her give a speech on the same subject at the 2006? 2007? Tory conference. Top stuff, I hope to see the vision implemented after the next election 🙂

  34. Patrick Harris
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    She blew your socks off with “her vision”.
    When I see this “vision” trumpeted on the front pages of the national press, debated on newsnight and the Radio 4 today programme I might open one eye and loosen my socks.

    When I see this vision in print and in the CONservative manifesto my socks will come off and I will walk 5 miles over broken glass to vote CONservative.

    That’s how certain am I that if will never happen.

    It will take pneumatic hammers to get these people out of the trough and cost at least as much again as bailing out the banks.

    Go on – make my day.

    Reply: This has been published by the party as a plan. Why wouldn’t they do it, as it would be sensible and popular.

  35. Britax
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately she has not gone far enough. This is an MP who is wedded to the present system of council tax, by abolishing capping will probably lead to the councils reverting back to the huge increases we saw in 2002/3 of 16% or more, no, no, the present system of council tax is what needs abolishing or major reform.

    They also need to reduce the levels of local government, do we need County, District, Town and Parish, no, do we need the amount of councillors, no, do we need the amount of managers, no.

    • alan jutson
      Posted March 12, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      Agree that Council Tax is the wrong way to raise money.

      I always thought that the Poll Tax system was a very much fairer way of raising money, as all of the residents paid the same, but a smaller amount.
      After all, all residents benefit from street lights, waste disposal, police, fire, education etc etc.

      We may then get a larger turn out at local Election time, if all of the residents have a stake. But I have the feeling this would not be introduced again due to past history.

      • John Moss
        Posted March 12, 2009 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

        Councils should raise more of what they spend and do it from a wider range of sources. Rates, Poll Tax, Council Tax, all single tax solutions to multi-facetted problems.

        Replace them with:

        Property tax, local sales tax, local income tax, hotel room charges, business rates, fees and charges for services, etc etc. any or all, at the rate the local council set with competition between councils.

      • Robert Eve
        Posted March 12, 2009 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

        Alan – I too thought the Poll Tax was a good thing. Why shouldn’t everyone pay for local services?

        I well remember that my parents, who were pensioners at the time, got far better discounts on their Poll Tax than are available on Council Tax.

        Trouble is the very words have become “not PC” by the liberal/socialist types that infect politics and the media.

        The way forward is to get the costs down as Caroline is suggesting. If the amounts needed are less then the manner of how it is paid for becomes less important.

  36. Patrick Harris
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    As an afterthought, has Ken Thornber CBE (CONservative leader of Hampshire County Council and a long time member of the board of seera) been informed that he and his 50 fellow CONservative board members are for the chop?

  37. Jack Iddon
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    This is wonderful but will it actually happen? It would be a massive step forward for local democracy.

  38. Patrick Harris
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Political parties only do sensible and popular in the run up to elections.

    There is now a precedent in law that no political party is bound by it’s manifesto promises, so you can promise the world, you know, like a referendum on the EU Constitution/Lisbon treaty and you won’t be taken seriously. (you are of course aware that the EU is the source of the plan to Balkanise England).
    So, you are going to have to find some other way of laying out your policy intentions, could I suggest an “Electoral Contract”, binding on elector and elected, thought not.

  39. adam
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    I see she missed one quango, the BBC.

    Today on London News they gave us the official BBC explanation of the ‘banking crisis’ as its now been rebranded. If i tell you it wasnt America that got the blame, seasoned BBC observers might be able to guess who.
    Its testosterone. Testosterone is to blame and therefore men. Those evil men did it to us. We need women bankers.
    Personally i find it insulting, their tedious drivel is just stupid at the least and its not news. Its op-ed. “some people are now saying its men who are to blame…” In the Guardian maybe.
    Its insulting to be extorted (taxed against consent) in the first place. They could at least come out with some quality TV. I can read far better commentary for free on the internet that is actually based on some economic facts not just some whimsical/prejudiced opinion.

    All very good anyway, Anything to wind up those prats in Brussels.

  40. Mike Cunningham
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    As several other commenters have noted, fine words but what are the odds of some action if and when the penny drops and Labour finally gets kicked out?

    Let’s see and hear some words from the Front Bench on the record, or even in the House of Commons, as to their plans once the election is won.

    I have lived far too long, and listened to the aspirational natter of too many politicians to believe any more fine promises.

    Reply: This is all published and on the record

  41. Alan Wheatley
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    I like it.

    As for the voters using their power to control local government, some things need to change for this to be practical.

    First of all the electorate need to have the information and to understand what policy is decided locally and what is implemented locally in accordance with central dictate.

    Second it is necessary to understand which tier of local government is responsible for what. Unitary authorities remove this problem (apart from Parishes) but many people still have county and district councils.

    Third is the need for a clear and correct combination for local government of the four elements of good management: RESPONSIBILITY; AUTHORITY; RESOURCES; ACCOUNTABILITY.

  42. Stuart Fairney
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    With 51 responses and counting, setting aside the blogs like Guido (which in fairness, amusing as it is, contain quite an amount of fairly ‘agricultural’ comment), is this the best read British political blog on the internet?

    Are you watching Mr Cameron? Does everyone (or indeed anyone) in the shadow cabinet achieve better ratings? Does this not suggest something?

  43. Patrick Harris
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    Published where? and recorded by whom.
    Published in the party manifesto? – No
    Recorded in Hansard? – No

    You not get my socks off until the two answers above turn to Yes.

    Reply: Published as a document and available on the Conservative website.

  44. Lynden Stowe, Leader Cotswold District Council
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    All good stuff. What about adding LAA’s (Local Area Agreements) to the list too?

    Reply: Fine by me – the more the merrier.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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