Letters: Richard Bird, August 25, 2015

SNETTISHAM PARKING                                                                               'Richard Stephenson wonders where his car has gone ANL-140519-130217001
SNETTISHAM PARKING 'Richard Stephenson wonders where his car has gone ANL-140519-130217001
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Following the announcement from David Cameron that “All secondary schools could become academies”, I would ask why?

If, as I see it, secondary schools in Norfolk have already become almost autonomous with decisions being made by the staff and governors, sometimes without consultation with Norfolk County Council Education Authority, what is the benefit?

Local to me, a high school has unilaterally decided to close its swimming pool which is used by many of its feeder junior schools. When asking the appropriate officers in NCC Education I was informed this was a local decision and that NCC had no say in it. This is just one example of the autonomy enjoyed by schools under the authority of NCC Education, although apparently fully funded by them.

Is this an example of the form of devolution so highly regarded by the current national Government?

For me, I would want to see some form of democratically elected body and a better deal for students and residents of our communities.

At the borough council the new buzz word is devolution, in my view, all recognise that there has to be change in the local government system; there isn’t enough money to continue as we have been since 1974. So I sat in on a presentation made by Nick Daubney (borough leader) and Ray Harding (borough chief executive). While every effort was made to assure some fellow councillors that this was not just another word for ‘unitary’, many needed a lot of persuasion. The idea, created, I think, by the national Government, is/was that the responsibilities currently held by them could be devolved alongside their budgets to a more local level.

The obvious flaw is that there is to be no new money – the proposal is to move what is already available to another level of local government.

In reality I do think that there is good argument for monies to be spent locally, generally ‘one size does not fit all’ and local knowledge does help tremendously.

Toby Coke, chairman of the county council’s Environment, Transport and Development Committee, has successfully forwarded a motion directing NCC officials to start looking at potential alternatives to save money through devolvement of responsibilities; these include the option of unitary governance. Clearly changes will have to be made. We will have a referendum on Europe, in or out. National Government is trying to bring in legislation to allow English matters to be voted on only by the English MPs, this presumably will alleviate the need for regional government and all its associated costs. Then we have all the parishes and towns that up to now have been ‘ring fenced’ as essentially they are closest to the people. That leaves the county council and the seven district authorities in Norfolk; these levels of governance do overlap considerably and have enormous cost implications.

In my view, the need to consolidate these authorities is the key to saving money.

Surely money is better spent on services for consumers than to a myriad of councillors and officials.

Richard Bird

Independent county and borough councillor, Hunstanton