A battle looms over decentralisation

A battle looms over decentralisation
Laurence Demarco
Regeneration & Renewal

This is my last last word. No, I’ve not got the sack – rather, I’m rearranging things to make space. I’m trying to write a book. Having a weekly column in a leading national journal is a privilege, a bit like having a personal soap box – without the irritation of hecklers. I have used this vantage point to present what I hope has been a consistent line.

I take the position that democracy in the UK is in trouble because the majority of our citizens have come to feel remote from its workings. For 30 years, governments have favoured the advance of market fundamentalism; the notion of the public interest has been subordinated; commercial interests take precedence; the citizen domain of trust, equity and service has been diminished.

At the same time, local government has become increasingly preoccupied with control. Citizen initiatives are routinely discouraged and resisted.

Officials and councillors have connived to establish a culture of passive dependency in our communities.

Not surprisingly, citizens’ interest in the process of government is at an all-time low. This is reflected both in voting turnouts and in membership of political parties.

I have tried to argue that the answer to this democratic deficit is to offer people more power in running their communities through the creation of a new tier of decision-making at the local level. The financial independence of this tier should be underpinned by locally-owned community anchor organisations – asset-holding, trading social enterprises.

The transfer of power to communities is a stated priority of New Labour during this, their third term of government. Over the next few months, a raft of white papers will emerge that will indicate their level of resolve – and they’ll need it. Powerful forces will resist decentralisation and sometimes I think they are stronger than us. When I feel despondent, I remember the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson, ‘I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but the people themselves.’ But our democracy is not a ‘once for ever’ achievement – it needs vigilant protection.

And so farewell. If I have won any fans over the past year, you may wish to know that I write a weekly blog at www.senscot.net. Otherwise the editor has kindly intimated that I would be welcome back as an occasional contributor – a voice from the edge. So, until next time, good luck with your adventures.