Making regional governments work

1. Regions and other lower levels of government should have the right to raise taxes to pay for the services that they provide.

2. In respect of services that the state is required to provide by statute:

  - funding should follow services so that whatever level of government is responsible for a given service has a right to obtaining funding for it from taxes raised centrally by the state

  - statutory services should be funded to an equal minimum standard wherever in Britain and by whatever level of government that service is provided.

3. Voters at each level should have the right every five years to decide which level of government - national, regional or local - they wish to be responsible for the provision of any given statutory service.

 

These clauses are intended to reflect my original idea (see below) and the comments since it was voted through.

In my post: A New Perspective on the Devolution topic - https://constitutionuk.com/category/0?q=a+new...eas#/post/83965 - I argue that the frighteningly high level of voter dissatisfaction in Britain today is the consequence of the long-term failure of the British constitution to adapt both to the changing role of the state and to the social changes that have transformed our country over the last hundred years.

One of the key reasons to establish regional governments – particularly in England – is to draw voters back into the political process and to restore trust.  But you only have to look at the turnout in European elections to see that voters aren’t interested in political institutions that have no power. So this re-engagement will only happen if voters are convinced that regional governments are sufficiently independent of central government to offer a realistic chance to change things for the better.

As Debra Storr has argued in her post: Devolution without tax-raising powers is a fraud - https://constitutionuk.com/category/view#/post/86928 the issue of funding is central to making regional governments convincing. So I’d like to suggest three principles that should be written into the constitution.

The first principle – as Debra argues - is that regional governments should have the right to raise their own taxes.

But this right on its own isn’t enough. As Debra also points out, sub-national levels of government can’t necessarily raise in their own area all the revenue required to fund the services for which they’re responsible. Besides, one regional government may choose – and should be allowed - to spend more on a particular services than is spent by other regions.

So the constitution needs to distinguish between ‘statutory services’ (eg schools and hospitals) that the state at whatever level has a statutory ( and perhaps even a constitutional) responsibility to provide and ‘discretionary services' (eg culture) that the regions can be left to fund out of the taxes that they raise themselves.

The constitution should establish a second principle to apply specificially to statutory services, namely that: funds must follow services. That way, if a region takes over responsibility for schools, for instance, it would have a constitutional right to the funds raised by central government to pay for them.

Writing this principle into the constitution would make it impossible for central government to devolve responsibility but keep control of funding – a political conjuring trick that, as Debra points out, makes so-called devolution a fraud.

But clearly not all regions have the same resources, so a third principle needs to be written into the constitution, namely that: each and every statutory service should be funded to an equal standard wherever in Britain and by whatever level of government it’s provided.

edited on Apr 14, 2015 by Alastair Bruton

Brian Wainwright Apr 10, 2015

I agree with all this, but a key issue is that all the parliaments/assemblies/whatever should be elected by PR. The FPTP system gives too much power to minorities who just happen to be congregated in the right place.

Alastair Bruton Apr 10, 2015

I appreciate that the choice of an electoral system has an impact on how regional governments might work, but it's also an issue that's being very fully discussed elsewhere, notably on the Electoral Reform Society's post at https://constitutionuk.com/post/79624. Could I suggest that it would be better to make any comments on electoral systems there and concentrate here, on other ways to make regional governments work including those outlined in my original idea above.

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Debra Storr Apr 10, 2015

I think the division into a statutory and a non statutory service is the problem here. 
If say Education is devolved to a tier, then it should be that tier's decision whether to provide some, a lot or an awful lot.  That's proper devolution.  Kids could start school at 4,5,6,7 .... 
No nonsense about post code lotteries : the freedom for different places to do dfferent things.   

 

Alastair Bruton Apr 10, 2015

Freedom is clearly fundamental, but like lots of rights, it can become oppressive if pushed to an extreme. Privileging one person or one section of the community's freedom to choose could lead to the denial of services to which other people should have a right. What happens if a town whose population is aging increases funds for old people's homes and geriatric medicine while cutting funding for pediatricians and schools? Should the old people have the right to look after their own interests at the expense of the next generation. Surely not. That's why minimum standards for education, health, social services, housing etc need to be set by statute.

 

Gavin Russ Apr 10, 2015

D, ths happens in already devolved institutions. You quote 'education' ... Devolved ... Health ... Devolved ... Transport .Devolved ? The Scottish Parliament, the Welsh government and the Northern Ireland Assembly have considerable and increasing powers in law formulatin and making without automatic reference to Westminister? We already have these powers ...? But we also have a far closer relationship to our elected representatives in terms of the interface between the citizen and the elected representative. We also vote under a different system. 

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Debra Storr Apr 10, 2015

once one tier imposes standards on another tier, it no longer has control.  Hence the dire state of local government which roughly speaking can only do what it is told to do - and then it compulsory with enormous areas set out in a swathes of central regulation.  

The minimum standards derive from some BIll of Rights not from imposition of one iptiers policy on another.  

Alastair Bruton Apr 10, 2015

To clarify what's being proposed here (along the lines of my original idea), could I suggest that the following four principles should be written into the constitution (actual wording to follow once we're agreed):

1. Regions and other lower levels of government should have the right to raise taxes to pay for the services that they provide.

 

2. In respect of services that the state is required to provide by statute,

  - funding should follow services so that whatever level of government is responsible for a given service has a right to obtaining funding for it from taxes raised centrally by the state.

 

  - statutory services should be funded to an equal minimum standard wherever in Britain and by whatever level of government that service is provided.

 

3. Voters at each level should have the right every five years to decide which level of government - national, regional or local - they wish to provide any given statutory service.

 

Harry Blain Apr 11, 2015

Nice "refinement" Alastair, good integration with some of the other ideas and comments. Does this also imply a federal constitution with regional parliaments? https://constitutionuk.com/category/2851#/post/90455 

Debra Storr Apr 10, 2015

1 is fine.  3 possibly - tho every 5 years for a government re-organisation seems rather brisk to me.  

I still have a problem with this idea of statutory services in 2.  Just what are these?  and who decides what is statutory?  

 

Alastair Bruton Apr 14, 2015

Any service which the state is required to provide by laws passed by the national parliament is de facto a statutory service.

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Debra Storr Apr 10, 2015

Exactly Gavin: there isnt a minimum standard set for education, health etc in Wales, Scotland, etc.  Its devolved.  The ScotGov could decide (theorecially, I hope) that education is bunk and stop doing it.  
At some point, you have to decide that Tier H is responsible for Issue D and let them get on with it.  

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Michael Ward Apr 11, 2015

A similar idea has been proposed here. It could possibly be merged maybe? https://constitutionuk.com/post/82935

Debra Storr Apr 14, 2015

I'm struggling with this top down level view of legislatures.  e.g. We already have a Scottish Parliament responsible for Education and all laws thereto.  A Uk tier would have no locus. 
I think your 2 Alastair is for when a higher tier mandates a lower to do X - so if the higher tier tells Regions/sub regions/communites that they must provide free schools meals, then it should pay for it.  
I'd rather the higher tiers butted out - its this bottom up v top down view of how we constuct who as responsibility for what. 

Peter Davidson Apr 14, 2015

@Debora Storr / @ Alistair Bruton

You appear to be engaged in a futile exercise revolving around semantics

To explain why, we should imagine a scenario in which the full blown devo-max settlement, surely coming down the road in the not too distant future for Scotland, unfolds over a five to ten year period. This outcome alone will act as a catalyst for profound constitutional change elsewhere across the remainder of the UK. Now factor in the recently announced Labour manifesto, summarised here (for simplicity) in the Guardian; http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/...esto-key-points

I draw your attention in particular to these specific points

  • Set up a people-led constitutional convention to determine the future of UK’s governance.
  • Replace the House of Lords with a Senate of the Nations and Regions
  • Pass an English Devolution Act, handing £30bn of resources and power “to our great English city and county regions
  • Meet promises to devolve further powers to Scotland and Wales

If these ideas come to fruition and my guess is they will, Britain is headed down a very different constitutional pathway from the present era - a direction very much under the broad heading "Federal Britain".

Do you suppose for one moment that Wales and Northern Ireland will stand idly by as they see Scotland forge ahead by grabbing a massive slice of self determination? What will this outcome provoke amongst those yearning for similar degrees of devolved governance across England - and this in an environment boasting an ongoing formal Constitutional Convention process with regular output into the public domain to stoke the fires of localised self-governance aspirations? Greater London already has an established tier of sub-UK governance and the next London Mayoral contest will take place in May 2016 - what price the candidates making a bold bid for Greater London Devo-Max?

In a future Federal framework of British governance the Barnett Formula is history, the capacity of a centralised unitary tier of governance to impose its will on a lower (constitutionally enshrined) tier no longer exists - the old order of top down, we know best ministerial diktat looks set to wither and die?

A Federal framework of governance would require a codified document setting out which tier of governance does what, why, when and crucially how (in terms of revenue raising capacity)

In short I believe this thread should be merged into the topic dealing with Federalism because the emergence of a Federal framework effectively renders discussions about the role of a National (Federal) tier and its relationship with lower (Regional) tiers, redundant?

https://constitutionuk.com/category/2851#/post/79621

Alastair Bruton Apr 15, 2015

If federalism is to work in practice, sooner or later, all your grand ideas and sweeping assertions have to be expressed in terms that will give this radically new political structure a chance of success. You may find that need frustrating and think the process merely a semantic squabble, but there's no escaping it.

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