In his talk to the Communist University in South London on 7 August, Dr Peter Latham, author of the book Local Government Democracy (Manifesto Press 2011) proposed ten policies to resuscitate local government democracy and assert working class interests. They were:

1)    Repeal of the Localism Act (except the provisions giving councils the right to return to the committee system and all councillors the right to make policy again in England and Wales, which should be an immediate campaigning priority for the Left).

2)    Abolition of US-style executive local government mayors and police and crime commissioners (PCCs). The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 – under which elections for 41 US-style PCCs with salaries between £65,000 and £100,000 per year depending on the scale of the police force area being overseen and regional pay variations) in England and Wales outside Greater London will be held in November 2012 – should be repealed because the abolition of police authorities is a centralising measure, which further downgrades the role of councillors. Turnout is also likely to be too low to give the bodies legitimacy. Moreover, elected PCC’s, according to West Yorkshire Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison, with the power to hire and fire chief constables, set the police force’s budget and “strategic direction” could undermine operational independence and also “be the door that unlocks corruption”.

3)    Smaller councils, more councillors.England, Wales and Scotland now have fewer and larger ‘local’ authorities than any other Western advanced capitalist country.

4)    Direct provision by councils of locally administered services. Most public spending is now controlled by the unelected ‘quango state’ with local councillors responsible for only five per cent of the total public spending in their areas. In addition, where this is in accordance with the wishes and needs of their electors, local authorities should be able to expand their functions under the “general power of competence” to run many things now owned and controlled by the private sector, such as local industry, some types of retail and wholesale distribution and a broad range of cultural facilities.

5)    The ending of all forms of marketisation, privatisation and profiteering in central and local government. Over a third of local government services are already marketised and privatised. However, there is no evidence to support the claims of the dominant neoliberal wings of the three main parties that the marketisation and privatisation of public services is value for money, either for taxpayers or for the users of services.

6)    Abolition of the council tax, stamp duty land tax and national non-domestic rates to be replaced by a system of annual land value tax plus progressive taxation of income and wealth. In Britain — where 0.3 per cent of the adult population own 69 per cent of the land worth an estimated £5 trillion — a land value tax (LVT) instead of the regressive council tax, stamp duty land tax and national non-domestic rates levied at one per cent could raise £50 billion a year (i.e. twice the estimated amount raised by the council tax in 2009/10). Only freeholders and landlords, moreover, would pay LVT; and the owners of large estates would pay more because their acreage is greater than a semi and they often own valuable sites in town and city centres. In addition, LVT would avoid the main shortcomings of a local income tax (LIT): which would be more complex and costly to collect, especially if it included unearned income not covered by PAYE, due to so many people living in a local jurisdiction different from where they work; and LIT would also be inequitable because of the large difference between mean or average income in more affluent areas and in poor areas.

7)    Ending the City of London Corporation. The anomaly of the City of London – which is a tax haven for the super rich – and retaining the non-residential business vote – which was actually extended in 2002 – is a travesty of democracy that should be resolved by abolishing the City of London Corporation and reconstituting it as the 33rd London borough.

8)    All councillors should only receive the average backbench annual allowance. The replacement of the traditional committee system with the systems of leader-cabinet or US-style directly-elected mayors has created a brigade of full-time career politicians. The working class have been removed from this layer of local democracy; and the average salary for directly-elected US-style executive mayors is now over seven times that of the average backbench councillor’s allowance).

9)    The Single Transferable Voting (STV) System should be used for all elections.  The first-past-the-post system to elect councillors not only fails to reflect fairly the votes cast, but also discourages participation in local democracy. STV, used for the first time in the 2007 local government elections in Scotland, is preferable, and would enhance local democracy. Moreover, the Supplementary Vote system – currently used in mayoral elections and continued by the Localism Act 2011 – in which voters record their first and second choice, should be abolished: since a large number of voters may be denied any say in the second round, sometimes exceeding in number the eventual majority of the winning candidate.

10)   Short-term deposits by councils should only be in publicly owned banks

In addition, Dr Latham identified an alternative economic and political strategy (AEPS) as a  pre-condition for carrying out the above. The 2011 TUC adopted an Alternative Economic Strategy, although it did not contain the anti-privatisation and public ownership policies contained in the People’s Charter adopted by the TUC in 2009. In addition, the Communist Party has called for:

  • a two per cent wealth tax on the richest 10 per cent of the population who own 44 per cent of Britain’s wealth, including private pension wealth, estimated to be £9 trillion (revenue £78 billion a year);
  • a 20 per cent windfall tax on the super-profits of banking, energy, retail, arms and drug monopolies (revenue £16 billion);
    • a ‘Robin Hood’ tax on City transactions (revenue £20 billion a year);
    • ending tax dodging by the super-rich and big business (revenue £70 billion a year);
    • repayment of money owed by bailed-out banks (£131 billion).

Such measures, if implemented, would not only close the deficit within five years: but also enable expenditure on public services to be increased – not slashed. N.B. only 10% of the cuts have so far been made and more are in the pipeline.

Do you agree? Are there any policies Dr Latham overlooked? Let us know what you think. Dr Latham’s complete paper may be read at  http://communistuniversity.wordpress.com

About drmartingraham

Branch Secretary Croydon CP Convenor Communist University in South London

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