While I am sure that we all welcome the prospect of free travel across the country for our senior citizens from April, the unfortunate tendency for sleight of hand by the government over the funding for this is yet another issue that needs proper exposure.
After much bluster with regard to the government’s special funding arrangements, the£250m earmarked for the scheme is being exposed as totally inadequate.
Here in the south-east the district council leaders have learned that the Society of District Council Treasurers no longer considers that the£212,000,000 set aside for running the scheme will be adequate, since the government’s expected growth in bus usage as a result of this change has not been included in their calculations.
This will mean that, as yet, an indeterminate but undoubtedly significant sum will fall on local council tax payers.
The way that this should have been implemented is as a national scheme with the government funding this directly to bus companies and employing councils as its agents merely to issue the passes on an actual cost basis.
It is not too late for the government to do the decent thing and organise this nationally or commit to funding fully the cost of this scheme so that valued and essential local services will not be adversely impacted.
Moira Gibson (Con) Leader, Surrey Heath BC
I was interested to read your article “Electoral Commission urges debate” (LGC, 20 December).
The Association of Electoral Administrators has been calling for a review of the way in which electoral administration is carried out in this country for some time.
We recommended just that to the Committee on Standards in Public Life during its review of the Electoral Commission. In our post-2007 election report we recommended a debate be initiated on the future provision of electoral services in the UK.
The report by the commission highlights what we have been saying for some time. It is a pity it has taken something like the problems at the Scottish elections last May to move this forward, but it is essential that all those who have an interest in the democratic process play a full part in the debate.
The comments which you quoted from the commission’s report are not exaggerations or scaremongering. It is a matter of irrefutable fact that the system came very close to breaking point in a number of areas last May.
If a general election had been called in the autumn with the added complications of an election during the annual registration process and the lack of a resolution to the problems of checking postal vote identifiers across council boundaries, I dread to think what might have happened.
One thing is certain fiddling around the edges, as we have been doing for some years now, is no longer a serious option.
John Turner Chief executive, Association of Electoral Administrators
I would like to express my disappointment, disbelief and dismay following the government’s announcement that the current six district councils and Cheshire CC will be abolished and replaced by two unitaries (LGC, 20 December).
The decision dismisses the argument put forward by both Crewe & Nantwich and Congleton BCs, which showed that the proposals do not meet the government’s own criteria or have public support.
The seven councils being abolished belong to the people who live in Cheshire. To abolish them without even consulting the residents of Cheshire is a democratic disgrace. In 2004 the voters of the north-east were asked if they wanted a regional assembly. An overwhelming majority, 80%, voted ‘no’ and the idea was immediately dropped.
The new unitary councils will cost council tax payers an additional£100m over five years. Local Cheshire MP Gwyneth Dunwoody has forecast that the new unitaries will run out of money in their first year.
The judicial review appeal on the local government review will be heard at the end of January and I hope this will be successful.
In the meantime residents and staff can be fully assured that the borough council will do everything possible to protect their interests.
Brian Silvester (Con) Leader, Crewe & Nantwich BC
A central/local start
The concordat signed between central government and the Local Government Association just before Christmas seems a modest and low-key document (LGC, 20 December). Nonetheless, it represents a start.
But there is a lot further to go; if the central/local relationship is to be as truly collaborative as the concordat states then local government will need greater constitutional protection than is currently afforded.
Some of the options for achieving this were canvassed by LGA chairman Sir Simon Milton (Con) in his address to Policy Exchange and Localis in September.
If constitutional status is at the core of the inequality in central/local relations, finance cannot be ignored. The concordat’s reference to “greater flexibility” in councils’ funding, and to the European Charter of Local Self-Government, is a wedge, leaving open the possibility of the reforms hinted at by Sir Michael Lyons.
If some form of new constitutional settlement is achieved whether through a written constitution or through a variety of less-formal means then the concordat could be an element of that settlement.
Perhaps it should get two stars, but with direction of travel ‘improving’, perhaps even ‘improving strongly’.
Roger Gough and Claude Willan Director and researcher, Localis
I have received details of one of your Effective Governance in Partnerships conference.
Ah, I thought. LGC understands the importance of the Local Government Act 2007 and the whole point of comprehensive area assessments, both of which put local politics and local priorities at the heart of service delivery.
What a disappointment then to see that not one councillor is listed to speak. It would appear that democratic deficits will be overcome by engagement tools and consultation. No, they won’t! They will be decreased by good politicians describing their vision and priorities and involving people in the delivery of it.
Richard Kemp Leader, Liberal Democrat Councillors of England & Wales