Don't try this at home
The Government is backing a project to bolster councils in Eastern Europe
Sunday 01 October 1995
Since 1979, it has been busy stripping councils of their powers. Yet the Foreign Office funds British academics to advise municipalities in the former Soviet bloc on how to expand their roles, as a bulwark against over-centralist governments.
The Institute of Local Government at Birmingham University has been involved for three years in advising East European municipalities. Backed by the Foreign Office's British Know-How Fund, it started with Poland and now also supports the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Russia, Moldava and the Ukraine.
Michael Clarke, head of the school of public policy at Birmingham University and ex chief executive of the Local Government Management Board, says: "We are working with officials and elected politicians to convert a system of local administration into local government. There is some way to go, but there is a determination to use local government to build something that will prevent a centralised state, with the apparatchiks taking control. It is a viable opportunity for democracy."
There is a recognition in both Britain and the assisted states that it is not appropriate simply to copy the UK model. This would be true as a matter of principle, regardless of the feelings aroused by stripping British councils of their powers. While education is being removed from the control of our local authorities, it is being handed over to municipalities in Poland.
Pawel Swianiewicz is the field officer for the Know-How Fund in Poland. He says: "The idea of the programme is not to replicate British solutions in Poland, but to use the British experience, learning from both the good and the bad. Unlike some other programmes, it doesn't try to send experts with a limited knowledge of local conditions, who spend their time in the most expensive hotels in Warsaw and then produce solutions. My opinion of academic standards in Britain is very high, having studied at a British university."
A central part of the programme is to set up demonstration projects in 12 municipalities. Manuals are being produced on how to run councils, including best practice advice and case studies. Priorities include raising management standards, so the transfer of primary schools to the municipalities occurs efficiently, and examining the effectiveness of housing management.
Professor Clarke says that the experience has a two-way benefit, not least by placing difficulties here in perspective: "The enormous problems they face make ours seem small. They have a determination to put a working system into place. It is an enormous task to get the structures and processes into place, and getting people to handle them."
Involving ordinary citizens in designing a local government structure has been one of the objectives of the programme, but discussion can be seen as a block on progress.
Professor Clarke says: "People are more interested in services than in debate. The big difficulty is getting people to think of what they want, and not imposing our approach. In Poland the government is flexible, and the Know-How Fund tries not to impose solutions."
Council officials here might be forgiven for wishing that Professor Clarke and his colleagues could now have similar success with the Government. Many of them would dearly love to have more powers to roll back centralisation.
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 3 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 4 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 Ian Brady: Moors murderer announces his support for Ukip and the SNP
Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
Russian hack of President Obama's emails worse than previously admitted
Ian Brady: Moors murderer announces his support for Ukip and the SNP
UK weather: Britain braced for snow to replace sun as arctic air mass moves in
Nepal earthquake: US Pastor Tony Miano sparks outcry by suggesting Nepalis should convert and not rebuild their 'pagan shrines'
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
iJobs Money & Business
£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...
£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...