Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Wednesday, 28 July 2010

When I was first elected, an old timer overheard me being praised by a minister, pulled me to one side and invested 30 years of wisdom into my life. "During your time in this place," he said, "many people will say nice things to you. And some of them will mean it!" I have never forgotten it.
You could say the same about party manifestos or flagship policies. Sometimes we mean it. I completely understand why people become cynical about political manifestos- words and actions not always in perfect harmony. But one of the big themes in our manifesto at the last election was localism and apparently we mean it! In the autumn the coalition government will bring forward a radical bill devolving power from the centre and the regions to local councils and communities like never before.
Already we have announced the dismantling of regional structures. Regional is simply not local enough. The Regional Spatial Strategy the Regional Development Agency and Government Office South West have all been given their marching orders. This will sadly impact the lives of many dedicated civil servants, but it is a crucial first step if we are to introduce real life changing localism. More freedom for village communities to decide what housing they need and where it goes – all part of the same agenda – has recently been announced.
Councils are being told that they are to have much more discretion to make their own decisions. This is great news for go-ahead authorities and nerve-wracking at the same time. So many decisions in the last two decades have been handed down from Whitehall, so many budgets ring-fenced, that councillors have had little real say-so. All that is about to change.
This will in time mean that more decisions are taken locally which means local communities must be more closely engaged in holding their elected ones to account. Greater responsibility should make the tough, often thankless, task of being a councillor, more attractive.
But it is not just about existing county or district councils becoming more powerful. There is scope also for parish councils to step forward and acquire more control and more resources. So many decisions (for example about the use and maintenance of open spaces and parks) would be better off being taken at the lowest possible level. Step forward parish councils.
No government likes to hand away power – but we said it and apparently we really mean it. Blimey!

posted by Gary @ 08:53