EU citizens trust local government

The European Union’s Committee of the Regions has published a new Eurobarometer survey looking at the impact of local and regional government in the EU.

The survey shows that local government is the most trusted tier of government in the EU (50% trust), with the EU itself second (47%) and national governments some way behind in third (34%).

Interestingly for European democrats, most people didn’t think that the EU had a big impact on their lives:

9 % said they felt that Brussels influenced the way they lived. In sharp contrast, 38 % believe that regions and local authorities have a crucial role to play, while 43 % think that their national government has the most influence.

The full report can be read here.

And the winners are…..

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Jacqui Smith: Remote - in the handbag. Husband - in the doghouse.

Given the recent news stories about the Home Secretary’s husband buying porn on the rates, and Tony McNulty’s complicated housing arrangements, it’s worth getting the whole debate in perspective.

Firstly, Iain Dale thinks it’s about as serious as things can get from the point of view of the reputation of politics.

Last year, a couple of  prominent Conservative Bloggers – Tim Montgomerie and Matt Sinclair made the case that politicians private lives do matter.

They received a thorough thoughful response from Gracchi over at The Liberal Conspiracy site:

Now, over at Stumbling and Mumbling, Chris Dillow adds a wry footnote to the debate.

I’d make two points that I’ve probably already made before here:

  1. For a country that has a spectacularly un-corrupt political culture, a remarkable job is being done convincing the public that the UK is some kind of kleptocracy.
  2. Elected politicians have rivals. Those rivals are not subjected to anything like the level of scrutiny that politicians are. They have few of the obligations politicians have to be transparent in their dealings. Those people exercise a good deal of power over us as well though.

Those who would prefer decisions to be made by bureaucrats or unelected pressure groups are the only winners here. Oh – I forgot. I should have also mentioned the media in that last sentence.

How local government and the public sector disincentivise social innovation

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Tenuous blogpost illustrations: Lemons from the market.

The reason that there is such a wide-ranging debate about what democracy is, and how it is likely to change in the coming years, is in no small part, down to the fact that technology is making new things possible. The technical infrastructure available to us is changing, and creative minds are being applied to find new ways to adapt it to solve old problems.

Those creative minds – the key to any success in this area – need incentivising to do their job properly. Or lets put it another way: They need to be able to earn a living doing it or they will turn their attention elsewhere.

A couple of years ago, Geoff Mulgan of The Young Foundation summed up the problems that ‘social innovators’ face.

“Although more policy ideas are now piloted than in the past, there are very few institutions devoted to social innovation, no widely accepted methods for doing it, no serious academic works analysing it and no widely used metrics for measuring it. Worse, there are strong disincentives to innovate in both the public and voluntary sectors. It is well known that the penalties for failed innovations are often high while the rewards for successful ones are slim…..”

And…

“… all new ideas threaten existing vested interests. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that ineffective models survive far longer than they should – for instance, in fields as various as criminal justice (where recidivism rates remain ridiculously high) and education (where levels of truancy and the number of people not currently in employment, education or training have remained stubbornly high for a decade or more).”

I’d add another brake on social innovation: Anyone that comes up with a good idea, and finds a way of making it commercially sustainable faces the following hurdles: Continue reading

Caroline Spelman fails a localism test

Given all the talk of localism in recent months, it is pretty disappointing to see Caroline Spelman, the Conservative shadow Local Government minister, making the following statement (via the BBC) on Council Tax rises:

At a time when millions of workers are facing pay freezes or unemployment this year, it adds insult to injury to drive up bills by a further £41 a year, on top of previous years’ rises. Labour’s refusal to follow the example of Scotland and freeze council tax bills in England is unfair on English taxpayers, who yet again have received a raw deal.

What makes this posturing worse is that there is a real case for the Government to answer on the funding formula, non-domestic rates, LABGI and so on – all of which could be argued from a localist position. And yet we get this attack, which implies that central government is where voters should place the accountability for council tax rises.

Does Ms Spelman think the Westminster Government sets Council Tax? If she realises that councils do, does she know which party is in control in most of them?

Councils v local newspapers?

A few weeks ago, Roy Greenslade picked up on a growing opposition to Council-run free newspapers.

As he notes, the opposition comes both from smaller political parties locally, and from commercial rivals that are being edged out – as they see it.

Elsewhere, we are seeing growing demands for a journalistic ‘bail-out’ – and not just from bug-eyed Marxist fanatics either. Certainly, a lot of the clearly drawn ethical lines that have protected the near-monopolies of some local newspapers are being challenged from many quarters.

On the one hand, a strong local democracy requires a powerful independent journalistic voice, and if the Council does anything to damage this ecology, then it would be difficult to defend.

However, I think that there is an opportunity here. The National Union of Journalists are firmly of the view that some local newspapers are cutting back on journalists – not because they can’t afford them, but because their current business model allows them to make sufficient advertising revenues without much investment in original content. Continue reading

Mixed Ink

The wemedia pitch it competition took place in Miami, February 2009

The wemedia pitch it competition took place in Miami, February 2009

I want to tell you about Mixed Ink – a really good concept in collaborative authoring that I encountered on my travels a few weeks ago.

I was in Miami (‘ark at me!), touting a democracy project that I’ve been nurturing for years.

The conference I was at was designed to showcase bright ideas in the use of new media tools. With a high level of involvement from indie journalists, a lot of new commercial and social-enterprise spaces were being keenly eyed.

The emerging spaces that are being created as the mainstream media adjusts to the perfect storm that it thinks it faces over the next few years were of particular interest to all.

My project didn’t win the prize sadly (there were two prizes and 18 candidates). The winners were See Click Fix (a variation on the UK’s excellent Fix My Street) and The Extraordinaires. Both good projects – the latter is just soooooo, like, kick-ass (as we say in America) it’s eye-watering. Do have a look.

But the project that interested my slightly wonky head the most was Mixed Ink. I had a few talks while I was there with the founder, Dave Stern and the idea has passed all the relevant tests for me. More to the point, I like it a lot more now I’ve thought it through. I’d love to try it here – and I think it would have a more positive impact here than in the US. Continue reading

Structural changes ignored?

I missed this at the time, but here’s an example of what happens when you spend a fortune on a commission and ask them to ignore the trees while describing the wood.

In Public Service magazine, Professor Michael Clarke offers an account of his work as chairman of a committee that looked at the city’s governance.

For some reason, the governance concerned – with low electoral turnout and a rise in political extremism – is surely effected by the role of local councillors, and the fact that a significant amount of responsibility has been removed from them?

But is this issue highlighted in the article? Stoke councillor Peter Kent Baguley says not – and does so rather well.