Under the radar
The current period is perhaps a time when one wouldn’t envy anybody in government. Most of what they do will be castigated. They will get things wrong so often as to seem utterly incompetent. In the case of the Johnson government this sense is of course borne out by abundant evidence that they actually are incompetent. But such a period also presents opportunities, which is to say government can do other stuff which will largely pass under the radar and not get the attention it deserves. The creeping (at pace) privatisation of the NHS, with the letting of contracts for services to unqualified private providers is proceeding without barely a check. Another example is the biggest shake-up of local authorities since the 1972 Local Government Act. This will lead to the creation of scores of new unitary authorities, most under the control of elected mayors.
I’m in favour of unitary authorities as it happens—locally elected bodies which deliver all local services. But what kind of authorities will they turn out to be? Mere vassals of central government edicts? Since in the current circumstances there is so little discussion of the subject, which is probably regarded as too arcane (even by the 30% or so who vote in local elections) we will be excluded. The shape and character of these new councils will be determined by ministers. There must also be the worry that the ‘efficiencies’ the new single authorities are expected to make will provide cover for another round of austerity. At least I dare say that the changes will be expected to be self-financing. The icing on the cake will be that some of the new bodies will want new buildings in new locations. Reforms such as this cannot always be recognised as happening unless there’s a shiny new office building project to go with it (which is what happened back in the seventies).
Here in North Yorkshire, England’s largest county, the county council believes it is best placed to be a unitary authority. The smaller districts prefer a two council solution, one of which would include the current unitary authority of York. Apparently this all has to be sorted out by the time of the May, 2021 local elections. So the public are just passive bystanders. An opportunity is being missed to involve people, but hey—it’s all a bit boring isn’t it?
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