Friday 20 August 2010

Doing it differently

Today's story about the potential impact on other services of Carwyn Jones' promise to increase education spending highlights an issue which I've posted on previously. To what extent should priorities and spending patterns be decided locally, and to what extent should local authorities be allowed to take their own decisions?

Peter Black, writing on Freedom Central, suggests that this will be a case where Labour and Plaid will "revert to their natural centralising instincts". I think he's being unfair. No surprise there perhaps; but the reason that I think he's being unfair isn't because I am utterly convinced that the government will not take a centralist line on this, it's because singling out two parties is turning a structural issue in politics into a bit of party political point scoring.

It seems to me that, on a range of issues, all Wales' political parties have an increasing tendency to believe that spending patterns and outcomes across a range of services should be consistent across Wales. And many MPs - mainly, but not exclusively, Tories – regularly draw attention to what they describe as unacceptable disparities between Wales and England.

If differences are, indeed, unacceptable, then there is a good case for centralising control. But if we want to retain an element of local democracy, then we also have to accept the possibility of different priorities being set – and different outcomes resulting. The alternative is that local 'democracy' becomes a solely administrative activity, and I'm not convinced that elections are the best way of choosing the best administrators.

I've seen politicians in all parties complaining about 'post code lotteries' in the provision of services, and the solution always seems to be more central control or direction. But if devolution – whether from London to Cardiff, or within Wales - doesn't include the right to do things differently, and therefore the inherent possibility that different priorities will lead to different outcomes, then what is the point?

1 comment:

Ap William said...

Nicely put. I suspect that Black is even now regretting his centralist jibe given the nature of his new bedfellows.