Is this a significant problem? The 'customer', if he gets it wrong, has only to make a second telephone call; the taxpayer has a statement showing the cost of services; and the accountability of councillors in each tier is vividly set out by the political parties both before and at elections. I cannot but think that this 'confusion' is exaggerated by the citizens' responses to pavement 'examinations' by opinion pollsters. Yet it remains a major reason for reorganisation.
Unfortunately for the future of local government, the chief executives and their associations have perforce to follow the Government's short-term, dogma-driven policies. Our primary need is to build a structure with authorities based on a sense of place or on historical, sporting or cultural associations. Without roots in real communities, popular support for local government wastes away and lets the centre replace it by administration by non-accountable quangos.
Secondly - what of Europe and the 21st century? We should be looking at the need for and the potential of regions - such as Hampshire and the Isle of Wight - that can be effective in Europe, particularly through the new Committee of the Regions. In such a system, districts, towns and parishes would have a vital role to play. That system will not be attained by fighting for greater areas and populations.
The writer is Emeritus Professor of Local Government at the University of Birmingham.Reuse content