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Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Localism Bill - power to the people?

Maria wrote 'δυνατά και ντύσου. Βάλε τα καλά σου. Δεν μπορείς να διαβάζεις αυτό το συγκεκριμένο ποίημα με τις πιτζάμες ' ... basically, 'don't recite this particular poem in pyjamas' to which she sweetly adds 'Ωραίος είσαι και έτσι'.
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I got up this morning from a restless sleep and started to try to make sense of the Coalition Government's Localism Bill which we'd discussed at Inlogov's departmental meeting yesterday morning. The official guide from CLG is the kind of thing I used to find so helpful when assembling a flatpack from a furniture superstore.

But here's the flensing - courtesy of posting on the LGiU site. Although the Minister, Eric Pickles, says no cuts will be greater than 8.9%, I suspect actual cuts are considerably deeper. Complaints will be treated as 'shroud-waving'. LGiU provide excellent useful information - as it emerges. Our take on the Bill will come with more narrative, though this is LGiU CEO Andy Sawford's take. (See also Ref: Professors George Jones' and John Stewart's oral evidence on localism to the Communities and Local Government Committee on November 15).
For the moment I'm reeling with the long term effects of the government's policies on Handsworth and the rest of our area; the implications for the breaking up of decades of messy incremental investment in our fragmented and fluid inner-city population...and this is from someone deeply involved in voluntarism and community activism since I arrived in Birmingham.
To make an inventory: ....starting, with Lin, The Reservoir Roads Residents' Association feistily engaged in resisting the renewal of the licence of the neighbouring Tower Ballroom to pay for an overflow car-park so late night revellers didn't invade our narrow streets; participating in the content of an S106A to get a local playground; succeeding via a survey of traffic in denying permission for a detour road that would have sent commuters in and out of the city centre past a local school and through residential streets;  acting as key witnesses in a case of racial discrimination in a local 'white's only' Working Men's Club and numerous local activities involving care of the elderly, street cleaning and a great street party to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977
Street Party in Daisy Road for the 1977 Silver Jubilee
When we moved to Handsworth it wasn't long before we'd started a residents' association for new street, and become involved in challenging our rating valuations in front of the local rating tribunal. We had limited success but got to know more of our neighbours. The two main community activities that have taken up the last decades of mine and many other's time have been campaigns to save Handsworth Park
 and to recover and restore the Victoria Jubilee Allotments, resisting robust attempts to encroach on a limited pool of inner city urban green space. Our successes here were palpable; the stories lengthy and well documented in film and text, attracting interest way beyond our local focus.
10 June 2010: queueing for plots on the restored VJA (ph: Richard Baddeley)
Other activity has involved work on restoring the churchyard of St Mary's Handsworth and the successful campaign to get Sandwell Council to alter the local plan for the area that includes Black Patch Park so that it is no longer available for industrial development. That's a continuing story amid as funds dry up for maintaining let alone restoring an urban park.

 What's been unique about this is the connection with the descendants of the Gypsies who were originally evicted from the Black Patch long ago. Some of them are shown in the YouTube of Bryn Phillips' song about Queen Henty's curse.
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 1400 Tuesday: Ah here's a reaction from Inlogov, from Philip Whiteman
....there remain a number of elephants in the room that Government has failed to fully answer.
Local authorities are being encouraged or subjected to the ideology of mergers and shared services are arguably good ideas in terms of economics but goes against the very concept of local control. In essence councils are becoming ever more distant from those they seek to serve. This is counter to the idea of connecting government to communities.
The move to de-ring fence funding is to be welcomed as it will allow greater local discretion over funding priority services. However, if Government is sincere in terms of allowing greater local autonomy in terms of funding, the balance of funding between central grants and local taxation needs to be addressed. Instead of central funding accounting for 75% to 25% local funding, this ratio should be reversed. Central government should only provide funding to ensure equalisation of funding between the richest and poorest communities.
The Big Society proposals could inevitably be depicted as little more than a mask for local authority spending reductions also announced yesterday. This means that funding community groups, the third sector and others to provide the Big Society capital will be difficult to achieve. The big hope comes from these groups being able to provide quick and cost effective alternative solutions.
The Localism Bill needs to ensure that principal councils can let go of services and hand them over to the parish and town level. Equally, local and parish councils need to build their own capacity and ensure that they are advocates for the Big Society. However, this tier of councils is very rural centric and greater thought will need to be given towards building the Big Society in urban conurbations.
The move towards increasing the number of mayors is journalistically and politically popular. However, government should not assume that all of the twelve cities will jump at the opportunity. Evidence in favour is patchy.
The role of councillors has largely been ignored. At a time of the Big Society, greater effort could be given towards the role in supporting and enhancing community influence and provision of local services.
INLOGOV will be researching, evaluating and monitoring how the Bill is enacted into reality. We will also be engaging our postgraduate students on the impact of Localism and the Big Society with their communities and employers. We welcome discussions with local authorities or any other organisation on how they seek to address the implications of new and current thinking within this arena. In the New Year, INLOGOV will publish a full and detail response to the Bill drawing upon expert opinion within the field.
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Καλά Χριστούγεννα και Ευτυχισμένος ο Νέος Χρόνος
I've posted quite a few Christmas cards this year including one to our neighbours - which might just make sense despite my Greek writing. We're always putting snow into our Christmas cards despite its rarity in English December. This year our local weather richly matches the theme. There was a prediction of snow in Ano Korakiana the other day - για έναρξη χιονόπτωσης στο χωριό. A celebration and vigil in the church of Savvani Arkoudena - εκκλησία των Σαββανήδων στην Αρκούδενα - ended early as a result. I see a photo of our neighbour - the Papas - Κωνσταντίνος Φαϊτάς - second from left - in Alice Stergiou-Savvani's dining room.
This year her family provides the traditional dinner of fish and wine for a vigil which, if I understand rightly, takes note of an ancient dispute that was to sever Eastern and Western christians. In the local church of Savvani Arkoudena there's a picture of St.Arius at the great Council of Nicea - first ecumenical council - Α’ Οικουμενική Σύνοδο - in the year 325AD. He is arguing his belief that Christ, though the most perfect of creations, is a creation of God the Father, in opposition to the belief of St.Alexander who held that Christ is of the same substance as the Father and co-eternal with him (my italics). This debate became so heated that Nicholas of Myra - one day to be known as 'Santa Claus' - slapped Bishop Arius for, as he saw it, belittling Christ.
The slap: 'Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!' James 3:5-6
The insertion of Alexander's argument - the filioque (and from the soninto the Western creed 260 years after the arguments at Nicea (words on this in Democracy Street some years ago, and again in Feb 2008),
Aghios Panteleimonas attended by the President of Greece and the Archbishop of Athens - reported by Malcolm Brabant - to advance conciliation in the present...

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The other day I dropped into our local GP to get my flu jab - which covers swine flu - and have a routine blood test. I like this process of trying to stop people getting ill, rather than waiting until they do. That of course is the trouble with a lot of what government does - stops bad things happening via road safety, food and drug testing, with building regulations - inside and out - with child protection; all kinds of risk assessment - things that can make government look like party poopers, do-gooders and interferers - and with the additional problem that it's so tricky to measure performance in stopping things happening. You can measure how many people you've arrested. How do you measure how many crimes you've prevented; how many fires didn't have to be put out because of the work you've done to ensure they never started? As a recipient of the flu jab over six years I've no scientific proof it works just because I've not had flue more than once in that time.
Preventive medicine: old gits at the docs
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I'm flattered at seeing my face on the front page of the Ano Korakiana website - with a fair précis in Greek of what I wrote in 2007 about Ano Korakiana avoiding becoming a 'non-community'
I find my rough re-translation rather pleasing, so leave it as is, since the meaning's all there (go to the village website and click on my face to read it in Greek) - Ο  Simon Baddeley είναι λέκτορας στο Ινστιτούτο Τοπικής Διακυβέρνησης του Πανεπιστημίου του Birmingham στην Αγγλία, μα πάνω από όλα λάτρης της Ελλάδας. Εδώ και αρκετούς μήνες έχει αποκτήσει μαζί με τη σύζυγό του μια άμεση σχέση με το χωριό μας, αφού εδώ περνάει αρκετό διάστημα του χρόνου, στο σπίτι που αγόρασε  στην περιοχή που είναι το πηγάδι της «Γραμματινής», κοντά στην εκκλησία του Εσταυρωμένου. Μέσω δε της ιστοσελίδας μας προσπαθεί να έχει μιαν εικόνα για τη ζωή του χωριού μας και αρκετές φορές γράφει σχετικά στο δικό του χώρο στο διαδίκτυο, ανταλλάσσοντας μάλιστα απόψεις και με άλλους συμπατριώτες του που έχουν κάνει την ίδια επιλογή με τον ίδιο, να αποκτήσουν δηλαδή ένα «καταφύγιο», μια δεύτερη κατοικία στο χωριό μας...
Do not make Korakiana "non-community"
Written by Kvk
13.12.07
Simon Baddeley is a lecturer at the Institute for Local Government at the University of Birmingham in England, but above all a lover of Greece. He's acquired with his wife, a direct link to our village, after passing some time here last year, buying the house by the well of Grammatinis near the church of the Crucified. Through our website he strives to gain an idea about the life of our village and sometimes writes on his own site on the Internet, exchanging views with other compatriots who have chosen like him to have a second home in our village ... He indicates a developing problem in a recent memo to the village about our future, in response to some reports on our website, a small part of which has already been translated into English and French. 
"What I'm trying to figure out is why the village (Ano Korakiana) has such a great style of architecture. It resembles a village that might have benefited from one or two large public buildings gifted by a rich Greek Diaspora. It seems there are so many elegantly crafted buildings, lovingly prepared with the additions to the lintels and doors and arches and other decorative features, suggesting a prosperous time ...
Referring to comments on the site  - korakiana.gr - hat today, a reduction in the population of the village is evident, despite the installation of either temporary or permanent foreign families. Many years ago in my childhood, my parents bought and converted an old house in the village of Bagnor near Newbury in Berkshire. When we went there in 1949 we were re the first among some 20 houses in the village to install interior plumbing. Others went to a small stream - the Winterbourne - running at one point under the village street, bringing water home in buckets. When we left there in 1962, the village had changed a lot. The villagers had mostly moved to the municipal housing on the edge of Newbury, and more professionals from the city had moved into the village . Of course we now know this phenomenon well. It happens in villages throughout Europe - and no doubt elsewhere.
I remember my father said that although we loved the place we'd come to live we were also part of what some saw as the destruction of the rural economy. In the 90s I re-visited Bagnor. I could hardly recognize it. We were there to protest along with thousands of others against the highway that would pass through the meadows of my childhood. My father wrote in his old age, that the invasion against which we were protesting so vigorously (but peacefully), was part of a change that affected all of us and for which we were partly responsible.
Do you think that some of us are putting at risk what might be called the 'integrity' of Ano Korakiana? Can any of us (trying to avoid the term 'we' because you and I and our relatives are unique and I don't want to characterize us all together as 'foreigners') be criticized for our choices in life? Will Ano Korakiana become as much a non-community as Barbati, with newly built houses and wonderful views of the sea, but inhabited exclusively by seasonal visitors. I hope that young Greeks born in Ano Korakiana will be able to stay, or leave, and return to contribute to village life. There are villages in England which despite having been transformed have gained a new equilibrium, with significant involvement of relative newcomers, who've found harmony with the remaining former residents,  pressed for the building of 'affordable housing' so younger people can remain in the village.
It is truly a touching reflection of Simon Baddeley, thinking that might not have been experienced by many of us locals, a reflection of a 'foreigner' who seems to feel as 'native' as many of us. We believe that such examples are useful and beneficial for our region, now and for the future in an ever-changing world. Moreover, the history of Korakiana for centuries, has been largely written by family relocation ...
In a Greek nutshell I guess!
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At a suburban BBQ, a  man slaps a child who's not his own
My current reading. The Slap* by Christos Tsiolkas.  I read earlier work by him while in Australia. Tsiolkas' writes of the lives of successfully settled emigrants from the Balkans, especially Greeks, living in Australia. He reports the dire existences of a materially comfortable, social and psychological diaspora. This is the Balkans transferred to the suburbs of Melbourne; eastern Europeans escaped, or dislocated by globalisation, from the hold of blue-collar solidarity, faith and ritual, tight family, close neighbours, organic community. Tsiolkas is an enragé on the arid rewards of embourgeoisement. A third generation emigrant, he looks back at a prosperous dystopia in the way a young 'gentleman' sent to private school by his nouveau riche parents might be ashamed of them, looking upon talk of self-made success with ignorant disdain. I'm over 150 years away from that process worked out in the mills of Oldham and Bolton, distanced from its feelings and dynamic, but I've been lucky with my friends, relatives and reading.

*The link here is to The Omnivore, a website developed by my niece, Anna Baddeley
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Oral evidence on Localism from John Stewart and George Jones, [George to the committee: "John and I are old men in a hurry. After all, we’ve been doing this for 40 years. We want to see it now."] taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee chaired by Clive Betts on 15 November 2010. Both have given a professional lifetime's academic attention to local government.

Q49 Chair : Good, we can make a start on our second evidence session of our inquiry into localism. Welcome, George and John; it almost seems like yesterday when you were before us on our previous inquiry into the balance of power, so welcome once again. Henry Peterson, welcome as well; it’s the first time you’ve come before the Committee. Somebody asked me the other day at a talk I was doing, after I’d finished, whether you could really prove that localism was going to make services more efficient, whether in the current climate it was actually going to be more cost effective and, if it wasn’t, whether there was any point in doing it. What would your response be if you were asked that question?
Professor George Jones: Yes, certainly localism will make services more effective, more efficient and more economical, because decisions will be taken close to the communities that are being dealt with. If we, for example, build on the work of the participatory budgeting experiments and exercises, we saw there, in an era of growth, that local citizens could take decisions sensibly and effectively about how to spend local money. Now we move into the era of cuts, and I’d have thought localism is even more significant, because, after all, it’s local people who will know where the cuts really bite, and they will know where to make sensible cuts far better than any central Government Department or regional office, and they will be able to be sensitive to any of the big problems that will arise-the social consequences, for instance, of cuts. Yes, it’ll be more economical, more efficient and more effective, because one hopes that they will be able to take an overview of all public service spending in the locality, building on the total budget experiments, so that it won’t just be local government expenditure that’s within their remit; it will be all public service expenditure. I’m a great champion of localism. You have yet to get me to define what I mean by that, but we’ll leave that to one side. My answer is wholeheartedly yes.
Professor John Stewart: I would also say wholeheartedly yes. You can fit expenditure more closely to two things: you can fit it more closely to local circumstances, which will vary from area to area; and you can also fit it more closely to what local people want. National Government tends inevitably to seek uniformity, because it hasn’t the machinery and the means to discriminate between the circumstances in one area and the circumstances in another, or to take full account of local wishes. That is why we actually have local councils; they can take account of local circumstances. The argument for localism is that maybe we are not giving the local councillors enough power.
In late November the Institute for Public Policy Research North - ippr north - sets out ‘five foundations’ upon which localism must be built:


  • A framework for decision-making which is efficient and effective – with powers being devolved down to the appropriate level of government.
  • Arrangements which give powers for much greater local financial autonomy. The target should be that local councils raise 50% of funds locally through a reformed local taxation system which combines local income and property taxes.
  • A set of national minimum outcomes which mean that every citizen is guaranteed a level of service within a system of greater de-centralization and local flexibility.
  • An increase in the transparency and accountability of local decision-making through more powerful and democratic local government.
  • A formal constitutional settlement between central and local government enshrining the key principles of central-local relations for years to come.

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