Cllr Paul Carter, the leader of Kent County`Council, is submitting a report to the Shadow Cabinet this month which will call for voluntary groupings of local councils to come together and take over services currently provided by Quangos. He estimates that savings of £21 billion could be achieved if England were divided into 46 sub regions – based on traditional shire and metropolitan boundaries. The Councils would continue to exist at present but they would come together to take on such functions as policing, health and economic development.
In an articlefor the Local Government Chronicle, Cllr Carter says:
We have a massive opportunity for significant devolution of funding and function by the removal of regional government and the abolition of a vast swathe of the quangocracy.
But it will remain just that – an opportunity – unless local government collectively organises itself at a spatial level that will give ministers the confidence that the sector has the structural capacity to take on these functions.
Local government cannot expect strategic functions held at the regional and national level to be devolved to it in its current form. It must set out its stall, innovate and adapt to deliver models for
this proposed environment.
With Government borrowing at £178 billion an incoming Conservative Government could be expected to find proposals to save £21 billion, without cutting services, of considerable interest – quite apart from the argument about enhancing accountability and democracy through greater localism. Town Halls with any sense would surely wish to see that taking place rather than their Formula Grant from Central Government being slashed – although both seem quite likely.
What sounds ambitious about Cllr Carter's proposals is that the whole things can be achieved through consensus. The LGC has an accompanying report which suggests some opposition from district councils. Cllr Paul Watkins, the leader of Dover District Council says the proposals offer "a County perspective."
But Cllr Richard Gates, the Waverley Borough Council leader, is quoted being more supportive. “What he’s been looking at isn’t the reorganisation of local government across England," says Cllr Gates, "he’s asking what the most effective way is of dealing with funding streams that currently come from the government through quangos."
I'm with Cllr Carter and Cllr Gates. But what about Cllr Watkins suggesting Dover won't sign up? It hardly seems viable to keep the Quangocracy in place for Waverley but not for Dover. If despite the prize on offer some Councils can't agree on forming clusters what will happen? Would a Conservative Government in the words of Jean Jacques Rousseau (and David Bowie) ensure they were "forced to be free"?