Thursday, October 28, 2010

What is local government devolution?

What is devolution in Local Government? It is when there is an agreement for services and budgets to be moved from a Council to a lower tier. In the case of Huntingdonshire devolution of services should mean that certain services and budgets of HDC are agreed to be run by the Town Councils. The important words in the last sentence are services, budget and agreed.

So how does HDC view devolution? The skewed idea that HDC calls devolution has everything to do with services and nothing to do with budgets and agreements. The withdrawal of public conveniences is a case in point. HDC abandoned these services and blamed the Town Councils for not picking this service up. The fact that HDC decided to abandoned this service before talking to the Town Councils is the basic flaw. In devolving services there should be an agreement in place between the Councils. The Conservative run HDC bullied the Town Councils into taking over these facilities. Some, like Huntingdon Town Council, have held out against the bully. Others, like St Neots Town Council, gave in to the bullying and took over the service themselves. The cost of the service is exclusively paid for by the St Neots Council Taxpayers. This is not devolving services this is bullying the Town Councils into covering the costs. A Conservative stealth tax on St Neots.

So why do I call this bullying? The answer goes back to 2006. This is when the Conservative run HDC decided to stop the agreement between HDC and SNTC over the Town Council running the public conveniences with HDC paying SNTC for this service. Instead HDC knew best and took this service in-house.
3 years later and HDC suddenly decided that SNTC knew best and decided to stop the service. This is NOT devolution of services because there was no finance nor any agreement

Huntingdonshire District Council self delusion
HDC continues to self delude itself that it is actually devolving services. At the Cabinet Meeting of 22nd July 2010 it was said: " a result of an acknowledgement that the service should be more appropriately dealt with by town and parish councils." Where did this acknowledgement came from? It wasn't forthcoming from Godmanchester, Huntingdon and St Ives. They have not kowtowed to HDC bullying and have refused to take on facilities abandoned by HDC.
At the Economic Well-being OSP on 9th September 2010, the members discussed the forthcoming cuts and the potential devolution of services. It was reported:

"Discussion then ensued on the possible devolution of services to towns, parishes or localities. With the recent decision on public conveniences in mind,(when HDC abandoned the service and bullied the Town Councils to taking on the service) the Panel recommended that if third tier organisations were to be invited to take on other additional responsibilities, (with the money to go with the service?) consultation should be undertaken with town and parish councils at the earliest opportunity to enable them to incorporate the need for any additional funding (so no money to go with these services then) into their budget setting processes. It was suggested that the District Council might also engage with towns and parishes about opportunities for other budgetary savings. (HDC saving - extra costs for the Town Council)"

The Economic Well-being OSP is looking to move services to Town/Parish Councils. This is because they aren't capped. So Conservative run HDC can keep its Council Tax level to zero whilst Liberal Democrat run SNTC has to hike its tax.

Further evidence as to HDC intentions is the following from the minutes of Cabinet meeting on 22nd July 2010.
HDC is looking to circumvent any capping by abandoning service in the hope the Town Councils take these services up and hike their Council Tax. Note Parish Councils were not included in this idea. Just hammer the Council Taxpayers in the Towns with Council Tax hikes and leave the Parishes free.

This isn't devolution. This is a way to circumvent the Coalitions zero Council Tax rise. 

What Conservative run HDC should do instead?
This answer is simple but goes against the grain. There does need to be an acceptance, by all concerned, that HDC does face serious cuts to its services mainly by its own actions. HDC does need to negotiate with the Town and Parish Councils on taking over services. Money does need to be put into the negotiations. There is a £1.9 million set aside for the purpose of "invest to save".
The Town and Parishes should look at this as an opportunity to allow HDC to "invest and save" in services transferred to them.

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