Three years ago I was very irritated about the government preaching water and drinking wine. My leader was about to get rid of my job as well.
But I’m still here! At the time I thought in 2014 I’d be sat in my shed witling tent pegs. Then the indigestion factors were abolishing regional development agencies and setting up local enterprise partnerships; localism defining us as central government contractors who should do as we are told; hasty cuts which did not give us time to redesign preventative services and weaning people off state dependence. And, remember, “Big Society”! Enough said!
For all the opportunities devolution brings, I am finding the current debate causes indigestion. First, you have various cities and city regions scrabbling for power, solely focussed on what is in their interests and sod the rest of us. Secondly, the counties are jumping up and down like kids waiting to be picked for a football team shouting “pick me, pick me”! Finally, and predictably, the government is hedging. They want a big stick to hit local government as it fails, abuses new powers and knee jerks its way through its new responsibilities.
Where is the leadership and vision on both sides? On our side, please people, let’s have a bit of solidarity. Stop fighting in the interest of your organisations – champion local democracy instead! Devolution across the country needs to be based on equal value of votes in local elections. The only way that will happen is a common approach across the country to tax and spend devolution.
Government should stop trying to find another way to maintain power within a devolution fairy tale and let go. In true devolution we are not accountable to the Westminster and Whitehall elite but to our local electorate.
And both sides need to show leadership. It is about being visionary and principled, and pragmatic. Of course a few councils will make mistakes, even fail. Some will even abuse new powers. If we always focussed on the worst case we would end up doing nothing. Leadership is also about managing risk and problem solving as you implement as well as design change.
Set out an agreed framework for devolution including strengthening local democracy and get on with it. Let go and marvel at the energy and innovation it will unleash. Do it before the Rennies stop working and my stomach ulcer flares up again.