Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bogotà

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Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bogotà

Postby Tim Lund » 8 Dec 2011 10:54

Advance apologies for a post where I may try to cram in too many ideas ... but here goes.

Thanks to the SydSoc enewsletter, yesterday evening I went to a talk on The Renaissance of Bogotà organised by Practical Action SE London

Professor Alan Gilbert discusses the struggle for good governance in Colombia’s capital city at this open meeting of SE London Practical Action. ... More details from: 020 8693 6774 or email paselgroup@yahoo.co.uk


The story - although this was a proper academic talking, so giving an assessment rather than a comforting, easy to digest narrative - was of a developing world city which in 1992 was pretty awful, with stratospheric murder rates, getting to the point now where large numbers of its citizens feel proud to live there, and having a credit rating rather better than much of Western Europe.

Four points stood out for me, because they relate to various posts I have made on this Forum recently.

1. A single, powerful city wide mayor

Bogotà is much the same size as London, but there are no lower level political structures than the city government such as we have with our London Boroughs - and nobody much wants them other than political parties and their potential clients. As in London, most people aren't that interested in politics, they just want good services. Compare to this post of mine on the 'Campaigning for Ken' thread.

2. Regular, independent assessments of the quality of public services

There is an independent private sector organisation which does regular credible surveys of satisfaction with different public services, and their reports are major stories in the local media. Council officers care very much about who well they are seen to be doing. Compare to this post of mine on the 'Campaigning for Ken' thread.

3. Fiscal discipline

In 2011 it is Western Europe and the US which have borrowed up to the point where lenders don't feel like lending them any more, and we are learning how this takes away our freedom to act as a society. It's a lesson most of the developing world has learned the hard way over the last 20 years. And a good credit rating does help when it comes to raising money for new infrastructure.

4. No effective planning controls on the construction of new houses and lettings

There are some planning controls on where you can build houses, but they don't get enforced, and in any case, they don't apply in outer areas. So people just build their own homes, starting off looking like archetypical shanty towns, but being improved over time, with extra storeys added, perhaps for tenants just moved into the city. So the young and less well off do not get priced out of housing. See reference to US economist Ed Glaeser to OP on the Campaigning for Ken thread - although I should add Prof Gilbert doesn't have too high an opinion of this author - or, I think, Prof Tony Travers, who I first heard mention this book at another meeting - on localism - that I went to earlier this year.

Contrast this with our situation in London, where central government is intensely suspicious of city wide government in London. Mrs Thatcher went so far as to abolish the GLC, and David Cameron reportedly sees Boris' power base here as a long term threat to him. Meanwhile, in Whitehall the DCLG channels out money via the structures of London Boroughs, which few other than councillors, some local activists and local government policy wonks are interested in. And their solution to perceived weaknesses? Localism - hoping that somehow even smaller organisations will magic into existence to provide the sorts of effective public services people want.
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Re: Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bo

Postby Tim Lund » 10 Dec 2011 12:28

There's an interesting article in this week's Economist on local government finance - well, at least I find it interesting.

IT ALL seemed so simple 19 months ago when the new coalition announced a revolution in local-authority financing. The apron strings that tie local governments tightly to the centre were to be loosened. Councils were to gain new freedom to raise and spend money, and more responsibility for generating growth (as well as for making unpopular budget cuts). But what started as a straightforward bet on localism has become increasingly fraught, as the urgent need to spur the economy runs up against the equally urgent need to ensure that all councils have roughly enough money to look after their residents.


The particular issue here is business rates, which should now be retained by local councils, so creating an incentive for them to encourage business, develop a predictable revenue stream and so help them raise money for investment from new sources including the capital markets.

Unfortunately, although according to Tony Travers some
councils are already thoroughly pro-business and “would snap your arm off for a new source of jobs”,

all
local authorities cannot be equally alluring to business, however hard they try. Although the rate of business taxation is set centrally (that will change if the government gets its way), the take varies hugely from place to place. Westminster, a rich London council, collected about 33 times as much as Middlesbrough in 2010-11. All will start out equal when the new provisions take effect in April 2013. But thereafter any incentive big enough to change councils’ behaviour leaves less revenue for redistribution. That would widen the gap between authorities capable of promoting growth (mainly in the south) and those where growth is slow or nonexistent.

So the grand concept of localising business rates is being hedged round with levies, tariffs, top-ups and resets.


By London standards, measured by how well it does to attract business, we here in Lewisham have a failing Council - with few excuses such as the long term decline of heavy industry provides for Middlesborough. So Whitehall is reinventing a complex system of welfare dependency to support our Council and other under-performers across London. Against this background, it is hard to see Lewisham ever developing a revenue stream to allow it to raise money for new investment from the markets.

The revenue base for an expanded London-wide government would be another story. Lewisham residents may not work here so much, but we do in other parts of London, so contributing to the business rates paid there, and so London as a whole would have an interest in supporting the sort of investment we need here. Further, economies of scale are likely to make its management easier. It's not going to happen any time soon, but - as may be noticed - I'm becoming more and more convinced that localism has to be focused on natural political and economic localities, and in London, that means London.
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Re: Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bo

Postby Robin Orton » 10 Dec 2011 22:49

I'm becoming more and more convinced that localism has to be focused on natural political and economic localities, and in London, that means London.

London is bigger than many independent nation states - I don't see how it can be regarded as a 'locality'. I am proud to be a citizen of Lewisham, which I think is an admirable and on the whole well-run borough. Salus populi suprema lex, say I. I don't want Boris and his poncy pals from the City and the outer suburbs poking their noses into our affairs any more than they do at present.
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Re: Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bo

Postby Tim Lund » 11 Dec 2011 11:34

Robin Orton wrote:London is bigger than many independent nation states - I don't see how it can be regarded as a 'locality'.


Asking how big a locality is sounds rather like asking how long is a piece of string. What matters is how much people are interested in it and in this context, how useful services provided at its particular scale are.

Robin Orton wrote: I am proud to be a citizen of Lewisham, which I think is an admirable and on the whole well-run borough.


Some evidence to support your case can be found on the page on Member Development on the web site of London Councils, where we read:

London Councils has been promoting the London Member Development Charter (LMDC) since 2006. The LMDC recognises authorities that provide a robust, structured framework designed to help the authority enhance and hone member development. It is a joint accreditation with LG Improvement and Development (formerly known as IDeA) and valid for three years. From May 2011, the LMDC will be delivered by South East Employers on behalf of London Councils.


So far just eleven councils have been awarded the Charter, of which Lewisham is one. However, is is interesting to learn that although there are four elements to the Charter for which evidence needs to be provided, it is not based on competencies of councillors.

Are you able to provide any more evidence of Lewisham being generally well run?
Robin Orton wrote:
Salus populi suprema lex, say I.


My understating is that 'salus' means health - so is this a specific claim that one of LB Lewisham's areas of excellence is the contribution it made via its work with Lewisham Primary Care Trust on the Local Strategic Partnership to local health outcomes? Do you have any evidence to back up such a claim? When you read on the Lewisham PCT site that

On 1 April2011 NHS South East London was established as the transitional body covering Bromley, Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark Primary Care Trusts and Bexley Care Trust. This change has been made as part of delivering the Government’s reforms to the NHS.


do you regret that this public service is no longer to be managed at the level of LB Lewisham? Do you feel that it would have been better to localise it even more, say at ward level, or perhaps asking GPs to manage the whole system themselves (I believe this was one of Health secretary Andrew Lansley's little fantasies). Or are you prepared to be realistic about the scale at which efficient public services need to be provided?

Robin Orton wrote:I don't want Boris and his poncy pals from the City and the outer suburbs poking their noses into our affairs any more than they do at present.


Were you similarly concerned in 1981 about Ken and his pals - however you might wish to characterise them - poking their noses into how LB Bromley allocated its money to public transport with their Fares Fair policy?
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Re: Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bo

Postby Robin Orton » 11 Dec 2011 20:59

The only reason I lapsed into Latin is because that is the language in which the borough motto, which I wanted to chant patriotically, is written.

My main evidence for saying that Lewisham is on the whole a well-run borough is my personal experience as a generally satisfied user of its services - refuse collection, street cleaning, parks, libraries, swimming baths, planning - and also because I think that in general it manages its communications interface with service users quite well.

I think services should be managed and delivered at the lowest possible level, provided this does not result in significant inefficiencies and waste.

As for Bogotà - well, you know what the dying George V said about the oddly similarly spelt Bognor...
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Re: Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bo

Postby Tim Lund » 11 Dec 2011 22:39

Robin Orton wrote:My main evidence for saying that Lewisham is on the whole a well-run borough is my personal experience as a generally satisfied user of its services - refuse collection, street cleaning, parks, libraries, swimming baths, planning - and also because I think that in general it manages its communications interface with service users quite well.


Might you change your mind on this if you had evidence of things being done better in other boroughs? Would you be interested to find out?

Robin Orton wrote:I think services should be managed and delivered at the lowest possible level, provided this does not result in significant inefficiencies and waste.


In terms of the percentage of your income,to be taken in some combination of Council Tax and central government taxes, or perhaps poorer actual health care, how much would you be willing to pay for medical services being managed at the Lewisham level versus the proposed SE London level, perhaps a London wide level, or alternatively at a ward level?
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Re: Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bo

Postby Tim Lund » 30 Dec 2011 12:46

These items on the radio this morning and yesterday:

- turned my thought to this subject again.

I don't have as exact figures as I'd like to hand, but my understanding is that the adult social services is already THE big item of council expenditure where cuts are immensely painful, and which so eats away at so many other things the Council would like to spend money on, e.g. libraries. Read former deputy Mayor, now Heidi Alexander MP on the matter here.

But these items are saying that as a society it makes sense for more money to be spent in this way, rather than on hospitals - something which I have no reason to argue with, especially with a member of my family proudly staying in her own home, while being supported by Macmillan Cancer Support.

So who should organise such services, and who should pay for them? My feeling is that this will before too long prove too much for local government on the scale of LB Lewisham. As an earlier post of mine on this thread pointed out, the NHS is reorganising itself on a bigger scale than Lewisham. In the meantime, it seems that a worthwhile part of the solution is already being delivered by a charity - Macmillans. Their web site has admirably clear information on where their money comes from and where it goes - hardly any of it from the tax payer (or am I missing something?).

I guess David Cameron style Conservatives would see this as a fine example of the Big Society - and I'd say it was a good thing also, even if I'd not use this language. But where is the localism in this, where the democratic control - or do we not really care? Well, I'd say, in this case we don't, but that doesn't make us undemocratic - it's just that actual democracy only works at the level of political entities which (1) correspond to areas people identify with, and (2) are large enough to be effective.
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Re: Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bo

Postby Tim Lund » 30 Jun 2013 12:49

Train journeys are great for reading stuff, so after Le Monde, it was Libération, and an article about a book by a professor of Geography "Réinventer la France : Trente cartes pour une nouvelle géographie" about how the political structures of France no longer corresponded to how it has developed. The details in France aren't the same as here, but there are clear parallels with what we can see here, and what I picked up about Bogotà from the other geography professor at UCL whose talk prompted the OP here.

The common factor is the development of big cities and their surrounding regions, such as with London, Paris and Bogotà, which call for an appropriate level of government. The common tension, in the UK and France, is between the existing smaller and larger scale political structures - smaller being London Boroughs, communes, départements, larger the national governments. No-one coming about the question afresh would come up with the existing division of powers, even though many involved with them will be working hard for their respective citizens. The result is government which is more inefficient and incoherent than it needs to be, and the existence of political classes who have in interest in it staying that way.
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Re: Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bo

Postby Tim Lund » 12 Oct 2013 18:05

I thought again about this this morning, having, as recommended by another STF poster, popped into the N'Damus pop up shop on the bridge over the railway. While my wife enthused about the product
Image
- I'm afraid, I just don't understand these things - I was talking to the assistant, and discovered she was from Colombia, so I took the opportunity to check out local perception of "The Renaissance of Bogotà". She confirmed that it had happened, and attributed it to its two term Mayor - Antanas Mockus.

So no disagreement, but identifying a change with a single person is perhaps a more normal human way of looking at things. OTOH, I think understanding systems and processes on a more abstract level in necessary to apply lessons elsewhere.
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Re: Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bo

Postby stone-penge » 13 Oct 2013 08:23

I remember being in Bogata in the 90's and seeing a homeless man asleep in a park being attacked by vigilantes with sticks and clubs.
maybe this policy could be introduced on Sydenham High street?
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Re: Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bo

Postby Manwithaview1 » 13 Oct 2013 13:02

When anything Colombian is mentioned the rise in cocaine usage in London springs to mind. Bolivian too...
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Re: Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bo

Postby Tim Lund » 13 Oct 2013 13:11

Which is a shame, since there's more to abroad than the problems we inflict

[ Post made via Mobile Device ] Image
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Re: Whitehall, City Hall, Localism and The Renaissance of Bo

Postby Manwithaview1 » 13 Oct 2013 13:34

Tim Lund wrote:Which is a shame, since there's more to abroad than the problems we inflict

[ Post made via Mobile Device ] Image


This is very true. Just looking at the state of India today confirms this for various reasons, some topical.
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