It’s said that Margaret Thatcher’s renowned hostility towards local government stemmed from looking out from her Commons office each day and seeing Lambeth town hall draped in anti-tory banners.
You have to wonder though just what kind of experience prompted Welsh cabinet secretary Alun Davies to describe councils as “Oliver Twist” following their protests over further budget cuts.
The likely truth is that Davies, who briefly fancied himself as a successor to First Minister Carwyn Jones, couldn’t come up with a cleverer way of dodging a difficult question about priorities.
Health is getting the major share of new money, whilst councils are seeing standstill awards that basically amount to more cuts. And make no mistake, the result is that jobs and services will probably go.
As one councillor graphically put it to me; things were cut to the bone long ago; we’re now talking about amputations.
The suspicion among civic leaders is that the game plan in Cardiff Bay is to starve councils into submission so that they accept merger plans aimed at cutting the number of local authorities from 22 to single figures.
The problem with that strategy is twofold. Firstly, successive attempts have failed to produce a cost-effective model. Secondly, as the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery (aka the Williams Report) pointed out four years ago, making meaningful improvements involves a bit more than a simple numbers game.
Notwithstanding the Dickensian references, something else that rankles is how there’s precious little evidence of belt-tightening within Welsh government itself. Every new power seems to make the Senedd bubble a little bigger and more costlier to run.
It’s a popular pastime among councillors to question the actual worth of devolution – but that’s a bit like asking what the Romans have ever done for us.
The answer of course is free prescriptions, free hospital parking, free eye tests, free bus passes and a lot more. The problem comes however when you can’t get to your surgery because the bus service has been cut. And how do we make provision for future elderly generations when the care homes are closing?
You seldom hear the phrase “joined up government” these days – but it’s definitely time we had some.
When are actions in the public interest?
It may not be the constitutional crisis that some claim, but Peter Hain’s decision to name names in the Lords has got the jurisprudence crowd extremely animated.
Maybe I’m simplifying things, but take away all the associated drama for a second, and the issue becomes a balancing act between the liberty of the press to report matters in the public interest versus another democratic cornerstone of a fully independent judiciary, free from political interference.
You pays your money and you takes your choice. In that context, and call me picky, but I’d choose a process that provides informed, impartial adjudications of disputes over a publication with a less than robust reputation for accuracy (according to press adjudicator IPSO).
I don’t think that Peter Hain took the easy option. He has enough experience at the higher echelons of things to understand the implications of crossing such a significant line.
Even so, when less charitable sources make spurious comparisons between his actions and those of a certain Tommy Robinson, who also cites public interest as a reason for wilful disregard of due legal process, then the perspective does tend to shift a little.
Over to you, m’lud.
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