Disillusionment with politics in our communities is born out of a disconnection with what really matters – the decision making affecting people’s daily lives.
For years we’ve worn out the cliché ‘empowerment to communities’, and apart from setting up a plethora of community and consultation groups on everything from health to transport to ‘listen’ to people, we’ve only tinkered at the edges and failed to deliver real power.
Surely real power for communities means the right to make difficult decisions and responsibility for managing their own budgets and services.
Imagine how empowered our communities would feel if they spent their share of local budgets – hundreds of thousands of pounds – on environmental improvements, play areas and youth provision, road and pavement maintenance, street cleaning and refuse collection, flower beds and grass cutting.
No longer would one community feel others were getting a better deal – they’d have equal spending powers per head of population and be able to demand the same high quality which many see in evidence in more affluent areas. The local post code lottery would not exist.
Then give them the power to raise extra revenue – much like the current town and parish councils – to be spent in their areas on specific projects wanted by the community. They could be the catalyst for the promotion of credit unions to help drive out the legal and illegal loan sharks and develop the kind of community cohesion only older generations can remember.
Add the opportunity to really influence the bigger decisions – on police, health, social care, education and the fire service and you have communities owning a real stake in their own lives, engaging on a scale currently unknown in Britain.
Local councillors are key to empowerment and the success of delegating budgets, providing a menu of services to be ‘bought’ by the community and ensuring they have the support to make decisions and manage the cash. It would mean a more strategic role for local authorities, so national government needs to delegate powers to them and city regions on a scale unheard of to date – taking the power closer to the people and making decisions more relevant.
How do we address inequalities, how would people be elected and different groups represented; what would be the role for councillors; how would police, health and education involve the new community groups; how would the public purse be protected? All questions to be answered.
But surely it is time to be bold and deliver power to the people.