What is the value of localism in Birmingham?

on Nov 22 in Uncategorized by

Birmingham City Council’s “Consultation on Localism” is part of the Council’s response to the “Big Society” and to reducing the budget deficit.

In its current form, the consultation paper could be interpreted as promoting centralism rather than localism. For example, it proposes to take back powers which have been given to the ten local constituencies. It appears that all services and significant budgets will be controlled centrally under the Council’s directors and cabinet members.

Once the local constituencies are stripped of their powers the paper suggests they might be given a small “community chest” budget to manage; or that they might provide “scrutiny” over how the council services are being delivered.

The paper also proposes to enlarge the geographical boundaries of the local areas. Instead of the ten parliamentary constituencies, four new massive local areas are proposed. The new areas match the local policing unit boundaries, which were introduced last year. Sutton Coldfield and Erdington, for example, become one local area.

It should be noted that the new policing areas haven’t been successful; crime has risen dramatically since their introduction. The number of burglaries in Sutton Coldfield has reportedly risen by over 70% when compared with the previous year, when the smaller policing areas existed.

The consultation paper says that the local constituency meetings are expensive to hold. Why not hold virtual meetings instead, and make more effective use of digital resources, and email which costs very little?

Perhaps we should take a cue from what three London Boroughs are doing. The City of Westminster; Kensington and Chelsea; and Hammersmith and Fulham; are pooling together their staff resources and services centrally because that saves money; but they are keeping decision making at the local level. The Leaders of those councils have stated; “local priorities will still be driven by local people”.

Birmingham has a network of Neighbourhood Forums; they are run by well informed, passionate people, who provide their time for free. Better use could be made of this army of neighbourhood volunteers; their passion and wisdom could be better harnessed by the Council.

Here’s a couple of real-life illustrations of how shifting decision making to Birmingham’s Neighbourhood Forums would have saved money:

  • In Mere Green, the local Neighbourhood Forum wasn’t consulted on the redesign of their roundabout. The Council covered the roundabout in stones and slate. The stones and slate are regularly used to attack passersby and property. The cost to the public purse of this debacle already includes several police investigations running into tens of thousands of pounds.
  • In Boldmere, the Neighbourhood Forum asked for their new street lights on the high street to be of a human scale. Instead, the Council has installed very expensive lamp columns; each column is taller than a three storey building and they are out of scale with their context.

Birmingham should do the same as the three London Boroughs: pool together staff resources centrally because that saves money; but empower communities by shifting decision making to the neighbourhoods. This will facilitate the principle of subsidiarity; i.e. the organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority.

Devolving decision making to the neighbourhoods will also enable delivery of the Council’s planning policy to create viable urban villages.

Click for Palace of Pugin

4 Comments

  • Daniel says:

    great post, thanks for sharing

  • Geoff Henderson says:

    Now that the Government’s Localism paper has now been published we can get into the meat of the debate.

  • Steve Lightfoot says:

    some good points here. I find it incredible that the local people weren’t consulted about the Mere Green roundabout. It has been some years since I left the area, but I am still a regular visitor and family still live there. The Council seems far removed and distant.
    Can anyone tell me, for example, what the processes are around the implementation of S106 agreements, and what happens to the money? How does the planning authority talk to local stakeholder about is?

  • cialis says:

    Your site is really very informative. Thank you for that.

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