Tom Richmond: Radical thinking in both Whitehall and Yorkshire

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WITH Labour in disarray, and George Osborne challenging the country to think the unthinkable over the size of the state ahead of his tilt at the Tory leadership, it is becoming clear that the political status quo is no longer an option.

Emboldened by an unexpected election win, the Chancellor has asked Whitehall departments to examine the impact of cuts of up to 40 per cent. Although efficiencies are not needed on this scale, he wants difficult questions asked about the future priorities of government so Britain can live within its means.

He is right – established orthodoxies should be challenged – and this applies, equally, to town halls as the debate intensifies over whether Yorkshire should have its own elected mayor in order to lead this region into a new era of economic prosperity. “It’s always been like this” should not be used as an excuse.

The argument cited most frequently against empowering a politician or entrepreneur to become Yorkshire’s answer to Boris Johnson is that it will add significantly to the cost of local government at a time of austerity.

It need not be like this. Given the fact that the Scottish Parliament has 128 MSPs, and there are just 60 members of the Welsh Assembly, why, for example, do there need to be 99 councillors in Leeds, 84 in Sheffield, 72 in North Yorkshire and 59 in Hull? One reason is the tradition for local wards to be represented by three councillors. Is this necessary? And should council elections take place every year – or once every four years?

It was a point made in the House of Commons by Philip Davies, the Shipley MP. His words are worth repeating. “May we explore the practice of electing people to local councils by thirds, which not only is a spectacular waste of money compared with all-out elections every four years, but undermines local accountability?” he asked.

“When the local people want to get rid of a corrupt or poorly performing local authority – such as we have seen in the past with Doncaster and Rotherham –they cannot do so when it is elected by thirds, when one party has a massive majority. All-in and all-out elections surely bring about much more local democracy. May we have a debate on them?”

Commons leader Chris Grayling was not dismissive of the idea – but he did say that such decisions needed to be taken locally. Yet here is the rub. Self-interest is likely to rule the public interest (council chief executives receive a very hefty bonus for presiding over elections) and there is unlikely to be a desire for change from within the corridors of power.

If it can be demonstrated that the creation of a Yorkshire Mayor could be allied with a streamlined local government structure – why do there need to be eight district councils operating under North Yorkshire County Council when the East Riding is an unitary authority? – then this county could find itself on the path to a more efficient form of leadership.

Let the debate begin.

MR Hypocrisy has been at it again. Having praised Ed Miliband’s manifesto as the “best” that he has ever stood on, Andy Burnham now says it was “too narrow”. He also responded to questions about the scale of the budget deficit when he was Treasury chief secretary from 2007-08 by saying he wasn’t Chancellor or Prime Minister.

Yet this is the man who is still (just) favourite to be leader of the Labour Party because he’s likely to pick up more second preference votes than the left-wing Jeremy Corbyn – who has opted to stick to his beliefs. No wonder there are many within the Opposition’s ranks who believe the eventual winner’s reign will be as short-lived as Iain Duncan Smith’s tenureship of the Tory party.

Perhaps Mr Burnham should listen to Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis – the man many would like to see lead the Opposition. As he said so succinctly: “There is no rule in politics that says there needs to be a healthy, functioning Labour Party.”

Too true.

UNLIKE Labour, the Liberal Democrats believe that they have solved their leadership vacancy by electing party president Tim Farron as successor to Nick Clegg. There is much to admire about his desire for a grass-roots revolution based on community activism.

I’m more sceptical, however, when he talks about returning the party to government. Mr Farron was, after all, about the only senior Lib Dem who did not hold Ministerial office between 2010-15. Either he was considered not to be up to the job – or he was too busy plotting to undermine the much-maligned Mr Clegg.

Either way, this is likely to be far more pertinent to the effectiveness of his leadership rather than the continued media scrutiny of his religious beliefs.

I AM pleased David Cameron has set up a new working group to promote tourism, an industry that contributes £60bn a year to the national economy. Yet I am slightly concerned that its membership will be restricted to Ministers from at least six Whitehall departments – I fear the task force will be too London-centric before it is quietly wound up. What about including those regional tourism leaders – like Yorkshire’s very own Sir Gary Verity – who have far more experience?

Part of the problem with policy-making in this country is that it is invariably left in the hands of those who know little about the subject in question.

LIKE the clocks moving forward, and back, once a year, the regular call by some unknown Minister for a relaxation of town centre parking charges is as predictable as Christmas. The latest is Marcus Jones, the Minister for the High Street. But, like others, he seems oblivious to the fact that parking restrictions are necessary to prevent rules being used and abused by those selfish drivers who shown no consideration until others. Until he can come up with a sensible solution to this, charges will be a necessary price to pay – the issue is what constitutes a reasonable rate.

IT says much about the sorry state of the England cricket team’s performance at Lord’s that Jos Buttler was subjected to trial by media when he walked after glancing the ball, faintly, into the hands of a grateful Australian wicketkeeper rather than feigning innocence.

Either such honesty is no longer the norm or the pundits concerned endorse the type of cheating that saw the cheating Stuart Broad dubbed “Broad the fraud” in the 2013 Ashes series.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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