Friday, 21 May 2010

Blink and you'll miss them

Two small sentences caught my eye in the new Coalition Programme for Government which will be of interest in Darlington.

In amongst all the grand plans we see this:

"We will allow councils to return to the committee system, should they wish to."

and this:

"We will impose tougher rules to stop unfair competition by local authority newspapers."

There is no doubt many local councillors, particularly among the Conservative ranks, view the Leader-Cabinet-Scrutiny model as far too centralised and undemocratic and many of them pine for the days when a vote in Committee or in Council actually meant something.
Could be an interesting debate if power changes hands next May. Would the local Tories actually propose the tearing down of the Cabinet system if they get their hands on a bit of its power?

Personally, I don't have a big problem with the Leader-Cabinet model. What does annoy me is the lack of information and lack of consultation which comes from some departments within the Council. Ward councillors from all parties complain about officers not keeping them informed about things which are happening in their ward and not consulting them about proposals for their ward.

It's all very well promoting ward councillors as "local champions" but in some Council departments in Darlington there is a culture of "officers know best" or "it'll make our lives a lot easier if we don't tell the ward councillors about this." This is particularly galling when many of these officers do not and never will choose to live here. For them, Darlington is just the next step on their rise up the local government ladder. They think they know best because their professional rule book tells them what to do.

It doesn't always work like that on the ground, as they sometimes find to their cost. Involving ward councillors throughout would help avoid the time consuming, costly and undemocratic mistakes which are sometimes made.

I haven't seen any comment from Peter Barron, the editor of the Northern Echo, about the second quote. He has been engaged in a long-running campaign against the unfair, as he sees it, competition for advertising revenue presented by the Council's colourful monthly Town Crier (or Town Liar) magazine.

What these "tougher rules" will be is not spelt out, but I would expect there to be widespread support for this measure from everywhere outside the ruling Labour Group.

Update: Peter Barron either reads this blog or he's got enough time on his hands to read the coalition's programme - or both. About an hour after I published this, he has blogged about it. Read Peter's on-line blog

1 comment:

james said...

No comment on the real significance of the coalition agreement - that the Liberals are now backing immediate cuts to overall spending levels which will reduce demand in the economy, cause private investment to fall again, thus ending the recovery...

This will perhaps be of greater interest to people in Darlington, don't you think?