Monday, December 20, 2010

Referenda - Has the coalition got this wrong?

Part of the coalition plans were for local referenda to decide local issues. Whilst the the Council Tax increases over and above a level yet to be set has been made mandatory, the problems with other referenda is they are not mandatory and require Council approval for a referendum to take place. Localism Bill here.

This is wrong! The Local Government Association has got at the DCLG over this issue. Where a council has authority to do something then the people should be able, through the use of referenda, to change public policy. What is the coalition so scared of? I suppose Proposition 13 is a classic example of people wanting their cake and eating it.

I always think that referenda should always carry a way of paying for a particular service. Here are some examples:

St Neots Leisure Centre will now owned and managed by St Neots Town Council by transferring the ownership of the lease and raising St Neots Council Taxpayers bill by £80 a year Band D average.

All parks and open spaces, including any buildings, currently owned or leased by HDC will be transferred to St Neots Town Council. This will be paid for by raising the St Neots Council Tax by £100 a year Band D average.

With each question should be the cost to the Council Taxpayer. The big question for those who moan at cuts is: "Where is the money coming from to pay to retain the service". A question that politicians and moaning members of the public don't want to answer.

A question of mandate.
I like the concept of mandate at elections. The winning party has the right to push through policies which they are elected on. This can work fine at national elections and even County Council elections and Parish/Town elections as these are on a fixed term basis. Where concept of mandate falls down is with election by thirds or halves as not everyone has the opportunity to vote on the issues.

On the question of referendums for Town Councils I'm a bit perplexed. Electors already have the right to call for a non binding Town Poll. These are pretty limited and are only open for part of the day - 4pm to 9pm. The changes I would like to see is the moving of the Annual Town Meeting to the months of January to March. Then any Town Polls flowing from the Annual Town Meeting can be held at the elections in May. This would require changes in the law.

I feel these referenda proposals are too timid and should be binding on a Council, where it is legal to do so. I'm not one for massive direct democracy but if we are going to have these powers lets make them real rather rather than illusionary.

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