Saturday, 12 July 2008

Free doughnuts and partisan propaganda won’t boost local democracy

Giles McNeill responds to Government proposals to change the way councils work

Giles McNeill, Nettleham Parish Councillor, expressed concern this week at proposals by the Government to scrap vital protection for local taxpayers from wasteful town halls and ‘jobs for the boys’ corruption.

They are also facing having to bankroll free doughnuts to bribe Labour supporters into voting, and allowing their salaried councillors to avoid turning up to meetings and vote ‘remotely’ instead: The proposals were outlined by Labour Ministers in a so-called ‘Community Empowerment’ White Paper.

Giles McNeill gave his backing to some of the proposals in the White Paper, such as:
· Greater scrutiny of unelected public officials, akin to Select Committees in Parliament.
· Promoting the transfer of assets to community management and ownership.
· Giving ‘backbench’ councillors more powers, such as through small budgets for their ward – a policy implemented by Conservatives at West Lindsey District Council a number of years ago.

However, in the small print of the White Paper, there are a series of more controversial proposals:
· Doughnuts to vote: Electors are to be given ‘incentives’ to vote in local elections, such as entry into prize draws or free doughnuts. In these ways, Labour councils could mobilise the disillusioned and demoralised Labour core vote at taxpayers’ expense.

· Propaganda on the rates: The Government intends to tear up the guidelines which prevent taxpayers’ money being spent on partisan propaganda by town halls. A survey by the Taxpayers’ Alliance last December highlighted that publicity spending by town halls has already soared to £450 million a year. The new partisan local publicity will be on top of the new taxpayers-funded Communications Allowance which funds partisan propaganda by Labour MPs.

· Jobs for the boys: Labour Ministers want to weaken anti-corruption rules that prevent council officers from being councillors, because so few people want to stand as Labour candidates to stand in local elections – there were none in the West Lindsey local elections back in May. Yet these rules were drawn up in the 1980s to stop local civil servants becoming politicised and present conflicts of interest.

· No need for councillors to attend meetings: Under new plans for ‘remote’ voting, councillors will not have to turn up at meetings. They will be able to vote and participate in meetings ‘remotely’. This will make it easier for Labour councillors to hold down multiple jobs, on top of cashing in on their councillor allowances.

Giles McNeill said:
“Councillors have a valued role to play in holding town halls to account, and act as champions of the local community. Yet I am concerned that the Labour Party wants to push through partisan laws that will allow them to bribe their voters, bring back jobs for the boys and slip in back-door state funding.

“But rather than these highly controversial changes, if Ministers were genuine about local democracy, they would hand back the powers that unelected regional assemblies and Whitehall quangos have seized from local communities. Unfortunately Labour is moving ahead with a barrage of new quangos that will take even more powers away from local communities. Only Conservtives will give these powers back to local people where they belong.”

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