My Conservative Home article on Mayors and Councils

The local elections were ignored by a large majority of the electorate. Whilst polls usually show enthusiasm for more devolution and more local decision making, when people are offered a chance to vote for local representatives most choose not to.
         The Police and Crime Commissioners have not taken off as an idea, with many people regarding it as an unnecessary layer of government. Few of them  become well known names in their regions, and most avoid undue controversy. The public want an independent police force enforcing the law without party preferences coming into it. The Commissioner has to be careful not to intervene in operational matters or seek to politicise the look and thrust of daily policing. Setting a budget, an agenda and priorities are all good things to do, but they have rarely become matters of general debate. There is no formal opposition to the Police Commissioner to highlight issues, options  and differences.
          The idea of elected mayors is not universally popular and some areas have rejected the proposition. Some of them decide to use the mayoralty as a platform to grandstand on national issues. Labour mayors often  seek to  enter the national debate talking about things they have little or no power over, and may see the mayoral pulpit as a means of enhancing their position and career prospects within their own party. When it comes to things they do have power over they normally blame the government for anything that goes wrong whilst claiming credit for anything positive that happens whether they initiated it or whether it came from government.  They often have difficult relations with the Councils they need to work with.
          As a former County Councillor myself I want local government to work. A good Council can make a lot of difference for the better, making wise choices over local services and the local environment whulst  providing good value for money.  I find too many Councils lack good political leadership capable of using the considerable financial and other resources they command to serve their public well. The Lib Dems running Wokingham Borough waste huge sums on things we do not want, pursue vendettas against local drivers, hike the car parking charges and Council tax, plead poverty and blame the government for everything that goes wrong. They often ignore the views of the public whilst spending liberally on formal consultations. Many Labour and Liberal led Councils run down local government, belittle their budgets and powers and run campaigns against the government and local Conservative MPs. They  see their job as advancing their party rather than looking after the needs and the money of the people they are meant to serve.
          Many Councils have spent too much money buying up properties at high prices, claiming they would make money for taxpayers,. Some of them are teetering on  the edge of bankruptcy as a result, now finding the interest they have to pay on the large borrowings they took out exceeds the rentals .They did not forecast the big changes to local property markets which have led to some empty shops, lower office rents and difficulty in keeping and recruiting tenants. The private sector saw them coming and offloaded shops and fringe properties to Councils.  These same Councils apparently have plenty of money to spend on consultants, on new schemes to wreck roads and impose  more cameras, lights and controls, to increase their numbers of well paid officials and maintain large office estates.
        Few Councils experiment with better ways of delivering social care. Not enough spend transport money on improving junctions to make them safer and easier to use, avoiding jams and delays. Most Councils think they can  keep on adding extra homes without adding road capacity, and without  facilitating more cables and pipes to increase utility supplies. They  often even allow delays in putting in more surgeries and school places, then have to rush to catch up.
         To succeed Councils need opposition groups that concentrate on expressing the needs and preferences of the public. They need to  expose what is wrong with the way the ruling group is spending all the money available with a  view to improving priorities and value for money. Those Councillors leading Councils need a good working relationship with officers, need to be well informed about what is going on and need to take complaints seriously. Local government controls much of social care, education, most roads, local transport services, leisure and amenities, and the maintenance of our important public spaces. They have wide ranging planning powers to decide on how much development and where it should go.
         We need a better and more honest account of how much money they spend and how much power they have. We need more focus on their options and their responsibilities. With that more people would see a good reason to go and vote. Democracy needs the voters to engage as well as the politicians. Too many are put off by parties wrongly claiming everything comes from central government.


  1. Derek
    May 11, 2024

    It’s odd that the Lib Dems do so well in local councils, when a quick check of their progress reveals that they are no better at it than other socialists et al.
    As a young ‘apprentice’, salesman, I was given a valued tip to achieve a sale. It was, simply, to seek to give the customer want he/she wants.
    Why this easy approach is not practised by local councils (and indeed, Government), is bewildering.
    The LibDems are famed for doing just that, PRIOR to gaining office but revert to type once they have the power to do their ‘own thing’.
    I do think the current and past Tory governments this century have followed that same bad, anti-electorate Lib Dem approach, subsequently, to ‘do their own thing’ which is contrary to the aspirations of their own electorate.
    It really is a wonder how they have survived for so long. Which reflects on just how bad has been the opposition. They’re no better now but “enough is enough” and a signal must be sent to this Party in deep decline because they, the Tories, after numerous attempts, still are not meeting the aspirations of the electorate. Why not?

    1. Peter
      May 17, 2024

      We would better off without police commissioners and mayors. They are just a waste of money – or even worse than that in the case of Sad Dick Khan who the outer boroughs of London are lumbered with once again.

  2. Lynn Atkinson
    May 17, 2024

    We don’t want elected Councillors who cannot control the local bureaucracy, as they repeatedly prove. We want bureaucrats tasked with specific objectives, e.g. collecting the bins and dealing with rubbish, maintaining road surfaces and signs, failure to be punished by sacking.
    Perhaps voters could vote the bureaucrats out of jobs if services are not delivered.
    No State entity apart from the Ministry of Defence, should own any property whatsoever. That might cause the planning departments to break out in a rash of honesty instead of acting as the alchemy department turning valueless land into gold for those on the inside track.

  3. agricola
    May 17, 2024

    Government at all levels is an expensive burden on the people so I am more in favour of less of it than more. Generally I am against devolution which as a concept is a hangover from EU membership. It was an EU way of diluting central government, an old UK empire concept of divide and conqueur. As you have pointed out it has done little for the advance of democracy that reflects the needs of the people within it.

    First, national government must reinstate its responsibility for UK governance, removing all residual umbelicals of EU power and law from our realm. NI, agricultural wilding, immigration, and Nett Zero are only the tip of the iceberg that divides our people from government.

    As a concurrent step we need a carefully chosen commission to investigate the ills of our myriad levels of government. Recommending those levels that are surplus to requirements, and most importantly defining the limits of power of those elements remaining.

    UK government talks the talk on our birthright to democracy, but after the referendum of 2016 is terrified of walking the walk. Once power has been given to government, mission creep becomes the name of the game. It is rarely returned without a fight. A five year electoral cycle is inadequate for the preservation of democracy based on a political parties manifesto. We see the vacuous rhetoric of Labour’s current contribution. On big questions like Nett Zero, Immigration, etc., we need to have referendums to ascertain what the people want, rather than what any political party wants. Application of the result cannot be entrusted to our currently politicised civil service or any government of the day without a legally binding Act on that application. That is the future for democracy and a reflection of the degree to which it is despised by the majority of current politicians at all levels.

  4. Cliff.. Wokingham.
    May 17, 2024

    Very well said Sir John!
    Personally, I found the personal attacks on you in the recent local LibDem campaign, rather odious.
    I have often wondered to myself, just how much of a difference the change of a political party really makes in the way a council is seen to act. Whether team blue, green, red or yellow are the figure heads, it is still the same people who like to be officers, who run the show.
    It seems to me that, councils see green spaces as a liability as they must maintain them. They see developed land as an asset which provides an income by way of rates and council tax and of course, rents.

    I am not happy with the new refuse service(sic) which is coming in from August and felt the consultation was a sham. We had a weekly system that had worked well but that was not an option. The options offered were fortnightly or three weekly, so obviously, people ticked the fortnightly box. The council then had the brass neck to say that the fortnightly collection was what the people wanted…. No, the people wanted what we already had.
    I have felt for a long time, councils are the enemies of the people.

    1. Peter Parsons
      May 17, 2024

      Cliff, are you aware that the current waste collection in Wokingham Borough does not align with the standards that this government is legislating to force/require all local authorities in England to comply with?

      For example, kerbside glass collection, which many other councils already offer, is not currently allowed under the current Wokingham Borough contract (negotiated and signed when the Conservatives ran the council) will become a legal requirement, so that requires a change to the current contract.

      To quote:

      “all local authorities in England must collect the same recyclable waste streams for recycling or composting from households. The recyclable waste streams include paper and card, plastic, glass, metal, food waste, and garden waste”

      Fortnightly collection of non-recyclable materials (the blue bags) will become the minimum legal requirement. Most of the rest of England already does it this way, and, personally, I’ve got no problem with this approach.

      1. a-tracy
        May 17, 2024

        The only problem with fortnightly collections are at holiday times such as Christmas or Easter, bank holidays if your collection is a Monday.
        So many big bins now, residents who can’t pull them from back to the front of their homes then have them next to the pavement or on the pavement reducing the width of pavements for people pushing prams or in wheelchairs forcing them out into the road and around parked cars.
        A household with one or two people only has a small amount of waste, so it takes ages to fill up their cardboard bin or plastic bin, and it’s not worth putting them out each fortnight.
        The garden bin collection is then charged extra. It is not collected from November to March, so when the leaves fall, you have to take them to the tip yourself, and if you’re tidying up shrubbery, the same.

        1. Peter Parsons
          May 18, 2024

          Collections get shifted with Saturday pickups to deal with public holidays. It’s never been a problem.

          Garden bin collections in Wokingham used to be free, but then the Conservatives introduced a charge for it, at which point I started taking it to the tip myself as it worked out that the charge was more expensive than paying for a taxi to take my waste to the tip given how much I used the service.

          I agree that blocking pavements is an issue, but that isn’t only an issue with bins. I see this regularly with parked cars.

  5. Keith young
    May 17, 2024

    With Mayors running local matters is there any point in MPs?

    1. glen cullen
      May 17, 2024

      They’ve also taken over, and disregard the local council …is there any point in councillors as we have a supreme leader

  6. DOM
    May 17, 2024

    Devolution is merely another act of ideological politics whose purpose is neither honourable nor moral. Its purpose is simple, POWER by divide and bureaucratic confusion. Parasitism is now rife across the British state. The body politic sucking the life-blood out of our private and civil world.

    I for one don’t need halfwits like Sunak and BLM Starmer telling me how he’s going to change my world for better. I for one simply want these Socialist slime-balls to get the hell out of our lives

    We only ask that you get out our lives and leave us alone. This was once the Tory way, not anymore since they endorsed scum Labour’s ideological agenda.
    God forbid if the real woke disciples gain power. Suicides will rocket, i’ll be the first

    1. glen cullen
      May 17, 2024

      Correct on all points, please remove police commissioners and regional/city mayors and return to accountable and democractic local government

      1. Keith young
        May 17, 2024

        Wales and Scotland trying to leave the uk when England had never be invited to join the uk . England not even represented on the British Irish Council.

        1. JoolsB
          May 17, 2024

          + 1

  7. Sakara Gold
    May 17, 2024

    The war criminal Putin and his chum the Chinese Emperor Xi Jinping are today colluding in more mischief for Ukraine, Taiwan and ourselves – ludicrously hailing their friendship as a “stabilising” force in the world. Putin, emboldened by the 6 month moratorium on arms supplies to Ukraine – organised by Trump and his House MAGA followers – has launched a new offensive aimed at capturing more Ukraine territory in the Kharkiv region.

    Putin is grovelling in Beijing for more Chinese economic support, more high-tech dual use equipment, access to China’s banking system and is asking for ammunition, tanks, high precision ballistic missiles and more

    Numerous NATO country politicians are falling over themselves to “rule out” putting boots on the ground. Biden has repeatedly said that this would be “escalatory” – as he said with ATACMS, HIMARS, tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, F-16 warplanes, long range ordnance that can hit legitimate targets in Russia etc. All this materiel has now been supplied; too little, too late, despite Biden’s objections.

    France, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and even Denmark are prepared to send troops to defend plucky Ukraine. Biden, fearfull of Putins’ meaningless threats to deploy “tactical” nuclear weapons, is once again refusing.

    Recent history shows that eventually, Biden will agree – but too late. Countless thousands of brave and patriotic Ukraine young people are making the ultimate sacrifice defending their country. Biden – and particularly Trump (who is spending a great deal of time sleeping at his criminal trial) – should hang their heads in shame.

    1. Lynn Atkinson
      May 17, 2024

      You need to stop watching the BBC. You are watching a seismic shift in Geopolitics. Russia has thrown off Communism and has tackled and beaten another NAZI attack, this time using NATO which was hijacked. Putin has proved to be one of the most remarkably able and successful leaders of all time.

      Let’s see if the USA can do the same. For comparison in early 1991, Soviet citizens voted on the New Union Treaty which proposed to reform rather than to dissolve the USSR. 76% of Soviet voters supported maintaining the Soviet Union, including a majority in nine of the 15 republics. A year later, however, the USSR didn’t exist.

      In the USA in 2021, a staggering 66% of Southern Republicans and 50% of independents were in favour of secession. The West Coast also showed strong support for secession mostly supported by Democrats.

      In this sense, the U.S. is already in more of a precarious situation than the USSR was in early 1991. And it is faced with USD 34 trillion debt and the loss of the world’s Reserve Currency. China has this month dumped a record amount of USD.

      What will happen to the EU when the USA has no skirt for them to cling to and hide behind? You think Denmark and Estonia will square up to Russia?

    2. formula57
      May 17, 2024

      @ Sakara Gold “France, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and even Denmark are prepared to send troops to defend plucky Ukraine.” – good for them: let us cheer them on whilst confining our own troops to barracks. Surely we have earned a break from pulling chestnuts out of the fire for others?

      1. Sakara Gold
        May 18, 2024


        The war criminal Putin has repeatedly stated that the Ukraine “special military operation” is NATO’s fault and his lackey Medvedev has directly threatened the UK with nuclear weapons. War with Russia is inevitable – the question is, do we want to win – or not?

        Better we fight them 1500 miles away in Ukraine than on the beaches here

    3. a-tracy
      May 17, 2024

      Particularly Trump? what? Trump is not in power to do anything right now. Don’t you think these trials are designed to keep him from campaigning?
      What has Trump said that we’ve been told about in the UK:

      About Nato: BBC “11 Feb 2024 — The US presidential hopeful says he would not protect any country failing to pay its bills.” “18 Mar 2024 — Republican candidate said he hopes he won’t have to choose between sending weapons to Kyiv and letting Russia “swallow” Ukraine.”

    4. Original Richard
      May 17, 2024

      SG : “Numerous NATO country politicians are falling over themselves to “rule out” putting boots on the ground.”

      As far as I am aware, there’s no law stopping you going to the Ukraine/Russia front line.

  8. Bloke
    May 17, 2024

    This is another fine article, full of insight, sound analysis and showing ways for improvement. Many will recognise similar situations in their own areas and agree with what needs doing for the better.

  9. Old Albion
    May 17, 2024

    There’s that word again ‘devolution’ and still the largest democratic defecit goes on unmentioned.
    When will England get equal treatment with Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland? A devolved English parliament for all English affairs. Not Balkanised regions, not Mayors, not division, but England.

    1. Lynn Atkinson
      May 17, 2024

      Reverse the balkanisation – get rid of the fringe assemblies, don’t validate them by adding a similar burden to England.

  10. Ian B
    May 17, 2024

    I don’t remember anyone ever wanting Police Commissioners – that was at best deflection from Central Government as a virtue signal.
    The same goes for local elected Mayors.

    1. formula57
      May 17, 2024

      Both offices creation of which was pushed for by Gordon Brown. The British people have paid and continue to pay a high price for his decision to enter public life.

    2. glen cullen
      May 17, 2024

      I believe, at that time, Cameron & Osborne liked the USA model

      1. Donna
        May 18, 2024

        I think it was Dan Hannan pushing the idea of Police and Crime Commissioners. I remember reading an article he wrote saying he wanted them to be called Sheriffs and complaining that people didn’t realise the “American” word Sheriff was a corruption of the Medieval English Shire Reeve.

  11. Ian B
    May 17, 2024

    When devolution was the proposal the idea was good. Giving local communities control over the services they were best placed to ‘get done’ Central Government went off on a tangent and wanted mini-me empires that have crippled communities and services. The power and the decisions didn’t arrive with those that ‘can do’

    Never forget Blair/Brown wanted to destroy the UK structures and society the Cameron and every PM since have bought in to that idea. This Conservative Government has taken this destruction to a new level, not just with the invites and encouragement of criminals to enter the Country, then also the invites for the unelected unaccountable from foreign domains to dictate how the UK must change its ways and traditions. the destruction of any form oof Democracy – isn’t that the creed of WEF? Then there is the NutZero Laws not practices by any of the UK’s competition – why does the UK get punished and the rest of the World moves on?.

    1. Lynn Atkinson
      May 17, 2024

      Local government is NEVER good. You lose objectivity. It becomes Mrs X v Mrs Y – why should she have a conservatory when I don’t have one – ‘NO’.

  12. Ian B
    May 17, 2024

    “The Commissioner has to be careful not to intervene in operational matters or seek to politicise the look and thrust of daily policing.” – Then as a contradiction the candidates they are politicly chosen by centralised Politburo for their loyalty to their political leadership.
    That’s not Democracy that is manipulation by Dictators

  13. Ian B
    May 17, 2024

    The (issues ed) at our centre. A big Labour Party donor, £1.4million so far. Is out today campaigning to block Hinkley Point. Previously he was the behind ‘Just-stop-oil’ and its destruction of people’s lives and property. He makes his money from renewable energy – so nuclear is a NO,NO.
    He is now said to be behind Labours energy policy.
    etc ed

    1. Ian B
      May 17, 2024

      IF only,
      or how the Conservative Party would win the next general election –

      Some people cant even ‘hear’ themselves let alone those they serve. Isn’t that the problem the Metro bubble is the flaw in UK’s Politics making sense and having a purpose. Perpetually tinkering at the extremes is just the Center in denial.

  14. mickc
    May 17, 2024

    A good article but entirely wasted on Conservative Home, which isn’t the slightest bit Conservative.

    Reply It is also published here!

    1. Peter
      May 17, 2024


      No it is not the slightest bit Conservative. David Gauke regularly posts there and on the New Statesman for some reason. When readers of CH complain about this they get shouted down by other readers.

      One Nation types seem to believe there will be only centrist Conservatives left after the general election and that they will magically rebuild the party from that base.

  15. glen cullen
    May 17, 2024

    If you have to bribe councils to adopt regional/city mayors and police commissioner …then the system is corrupt ….you bypass and ignore the historic, democratic and values of the local government to achieve 15-minute cities and the goals of C40 cities promoted by the untied nations

  16. Donna
    May 17, 2024

    Central Government, the Quangocracy, County Councils, Unitary Authorities and Local Councils are all part of the strategy to confuse the electorate about which authority is responsible for policies which are being imposed with no real democratic mandate.

    Sir John regularly blames Councils and Highway Authorities for promoting anti-car policies without acknowledging that the policy originates with (in order) the WEF, the EU and the DfT. The DfT funds Councils to pursue anti-car policies. Grant Shapps, as Transport Minister, intended to extend ULEZ to the North and South Circulars of London; Khan went one better and included all of Greater London – including the still semi- rural areas of Kent where I was brought up where air quality isn’t an even slightly plausible excuse. Sunak could have stopped him, but he didn’t because he basically serves the same Masters.

    City/Regional Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners were imposed by the Not-a-Conservative-Party with no demand from the public and no mandate. Yet another layer of “jobs for the political guys ‘n’ gals” who can then steadily grow their bureaucratic fiefdoms, courtesy of taxpayers, and create yet more obfuscation about who is responsible for a policy which negatively impacts the public.

    We are massively over-governed in this country. We don’t need all the legions of Politicians, their hangers-on, the out-of-control Quangocracy or the proliferation of over-paid and under-performing Council Executives. And if the senior management teams of the Police (ie Rowley and his ilk) were de-politicised and the jobs were given to police who had come up through the ranks, there would be no need whatsoever for Police and Crime Commissioners.

    Reagan was right “The scariest words in the English language are I’m from the Government and I’m here to help.”

  17. William Long
    May 17, 2024

    I received no communication regarding the recent Police Commissioner election in our area, apart from the polling card, and from what I have heard from others this seems typical, so, if even the candidates cannot be bothered, what is the point?

    1. Ian B
      May 17, 2024

      @William Long – the centralised Politburo appointed your candidate for you based on their loyalty to their political masters.

  18. Bryan Harris
    May 17, 2024

    Bottom line — We need more people in government, local and national, who can think for themselves without political affiliation getting in the way.

    Too much of what happens in Westminster filters down to local councils, who feel they have to follow the lead.

    I’ve also found that councils are too open to being ‘guided’ by special interest groups – we certainly need a better balance there, because the views of residents are being ignored.

    1. Ian B
      May 17, 2024

      @Bryan Harris – so very true. Political affiliation has now become some sort of mad religious cult. Its first aims now appear to be the removal of democracy and freedoms. Most of us have been thinking we are voting for someone to serve us, our communities and the Country as in Government by the People for the People called democracy elsewhere.

      The only interest group and lobbying should come from each individual voter and no one else

  19. Ian B
    May 17, 2024

    I am old enough to remember Wokingham under the old regime, streets clean and a vibrant market town. Shopkeepers and traders are now forced out as people in the community can no longer afford or are hindered from entering the town.
    I also remember under the old regime someone once proposed ‘parking wardens’ as it was felt some people were overstaying the parking times in Rose Street. However, good Council management concluded that the cost of these private companies that are the go-to for this sort of policing didn’t warrant their introduction as the gain would be minimal – so the cause was abandoned. Now the Liberal Democrats desperate and intolerant of everything sensible have taken the opposite approach – kill the town and pat themselves on the back.

    Is California Cross a hit or a miss, or just the incompetent saying look ‘I am spending your money’ – what year will it open?

  20. Linda Brown
    May 17, 2024

    A lot of these ideas on authority figures comes from the EU and should never have been introduced, eg Mayors other than the ones we have for public occasions on councils. The one who has just lost his seat in the West Midlands is an example of how it can be used for politics on HS2 (thank goodness that did not work) and also he introduced a 6 month trial on electric bikes for hire which died a death without mention. In fact, I saw empty places where they should have been returned and one thrown on the floor in the area by me. So what did that stunt cost to the taxpayer? This is just an example of how the mayoral system does not work for the ordinary resident who wants good services not someone trying to get a higher position in their own party after the inevitable happens as has in the West Midlands. The problem is these people keep popping up somewhere else to bring their destruction with them and at higher levels! We have all seen it in places where we work, the problem gets promotion out of the way and the workers who should get promotion stay on holding up the fort.

  21. Bert+Young
    May 17, 2024

    The skills and capability of those in Local Government are sadly lacking ; the selection process is to blame . The excessive charges made to residents demand something reasonable in return – we simply are not getting it . If regulations and supervision is lacking from up top the mess occurs underneath . Our whole system of Government has to change .

  22. Original Richard
    May 17, 2024

    “To succeed Councils need opposition groups that concentrate on expressing the needs and preferences of the public.”

    Absolutely correct. In fact, if Councils (start to) exist where there is no opposition then an election system needs to be organised/brought in where there is always at least one opposition member.

  23. glen cullen
    May 17, 2024

    The art of getting elected and staying in power is quite simple; all you have to do is satisfy the needs, wants & desires of the ‘majority’ voters that put you in power.

    However, since Cameron the Tory leadership has forgotten its voters, they’re more interested in satisfying the needs, wants & desires of the one-nation, minority parties, the woke media, the EU and the UN

    You ignore the people who put you in power; ya fools

  24. Ukretired123
    May 17, 2024

    Excellent article as the majority of people cannot see the effects of voting locally one way or the other. Only when defaults materialise such as bankruptcy and loss of previous standards of services do they realise why they shouldn’t vote for the incumbent . But such a system encourages slip shod lazy unaccounted complacency sadly – the modern curse of so called Public Service in the UK.

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