Leading article: Mr Cameron must decide where power lies

Share
Related Topics

We are told that during the recent election campaign the Conservative Party's "Big Society" theme "did not play well on the doorstep". But that has not deterred David Cameron from dragging the concept across the Downing Street threshold with him. Such persistence is broadly to be welcomed. The Big Society, despite its fuzziness, was one of the Tories' most progressive ideas, certainly far more appealing than the cynical scaremongering over "Broken Britain". The proposal to enable and encourage community groups, charities and social enterprises to play a more substantial role in the delivery of public services has much to recommend it. So does the proposal to allow parent co-operatives to set up and run their own state-funded schools.

But the poetry of a campaign now needs to be translated into the prose of government. This Government will be judged on the basis of policy, not slogans. And, when it comes to policy, detail is all. If ministers are going to revolutionise public services by opening up the sector to a host of new providers, they need to be clear about the lines of accountability for those new providers. And it is on this question of accountability where the coalition Government's plans are worryingly vague.

An official document released by the coalition yesterday specifies the goal of transferring power from central to local government. But some of the proposals floated by the Conservatives in the election campaign would have the opposite effect. The new Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has indicated that he envisages new parent-run state schools being directly accountable to his department, rather than local education authorities. That does not sound like a recipe for strengthening local government.

The Conservatives also campaigned on a promise to allow local communities the right to veto council tax rises. This too would be a significant restriction on the freedom of local authorities. The Tories now admit that Margaret Thatcher was wrong to strip local government of many of its powers in the 1980s. But such a move would merely cement that malign legacy.

Few would argue that local councils are, at present, exemplars of efficiency and competence. Many would even cheer proposals that diminished their powers. But councils will not improve their performance or become more responsive to local needs if central government continues to strip them of responsibility. A government that is serious about devolving power will resist such short-term populism.

The Liberal Democrats share the Conservatives' desire to allow local communities to play a more direct role in the delivery of public services. But their manifesto reflected a more realistic appreciation than the Tories of the role local government will need to play in this process, both as a watchdog and facilitator. The Liberal Democrats have long proposed a local income tax to replace the council tax, something that would put local government finances on a more secure footing. They also argue that local education authorities should retain authority over new schools.

The Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, put on a show of solidarity with Mr Cameron at yesterday's event presenting the Big Society programme. Yet we do not know to what extent Liberal Democrat realism will succeed in influencing the policies that emerge from this coalition. Yesterday's policy document from the coalition does pledge "a radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government". But as long as we lack detail, fears will persist that this is a government more committed to devolving power in the abstract than the concrete.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: With 100 days still to go how will Cameron, Miliband and Co. keep us all engaged?

Andrew Grice
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea