Sunday, 23 October 2011

How it works...

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When we speak of how Brussels lacks democracy, we point to the opaqueness of its decision-making, its secrecy and the manner in which directives are spawned on the back of private meetings between ministers. We rightly – assuming we are wise – cry foul at the imperious, almost imperialistic, nature of the European Union’s project of centralisation.

But we don’t realise that this system, this thing we condemn so loudly (and rightly), merely reflects on a trans-national scale the system under which we live already? Let me tell you a little story to illustrate.

There is an organisation called the Association of West Yorkshire Authorities (AWYA) – it doesn’t even have a web site:

The AWYA is an association of the five West Yorkshire metropolitan local authorities – Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield.  It was established in 1993 to provide a forum for the discussion and co-ordination of matters of mutual concern and interest.
 
The AWYA acts as the local government voice of West Yorkshire, promoting and lobbying for its interests and identity. It provides a means for the five Councils to reach joint views on proposed legislation and other matters of concern to West Yorkshire, and to express these views to organisations such as the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly (YHA), Local Government Yorkshire and the Humber (LGYH), central government and other appropriate bodies.

All rather grand! But the truth should be more worrying to those who believe that transparency is essential to effective democracy. The AWYA meets periodically – attended by the Leaders and Chief Executives of the five West Yorkshire local councils. It is currently chaired by Ian Greenwood, leader of Bradford Council. It meets in secret and its minutes are not published. And it makes major decisions without reference to the processes in the five local councils (hiding behind words like ‘subject to ratification’ or some such). And these are big decisions:

The Association of West Yorkshire Authorities, with Bradford Council leader Ian Greenwood as chairman, met last month to discuss setting up the West Yorkshire Transport Fund.

Documents obtained by the T&A show a £1bn fund could have a “transformational impact” equivalent to 33km of light rail network, a 60km network of high quality bus rapid transit, or 43km of new roads.

The aim of the fund would be to address the region’s key economic barriers and drivers and, if investment is well targeted, it could add £1bn a year to the region’s economic potential as well as creating 20,000 jobs in the medium term.

It may well be that setting up such a fund is a stonking idea but the way in which the AWYA has arrived at the decision to progress its creation isn’t remotely democratic nor is there any evidence that public scrutiny is possible or of a train of accountability back to the voter. It is, to be blunt, a stitch up promoted by vested interest without reference to the real transport needs of the “sub-region” let alone the specific interests of local communities that actually elect the councillors who are supposed to take these decisions.

And the AWYA is just one such body – we have others in West Yorkshire: the Police Authority, the Local Economic Partnership, something called the Joint Services Board and assorted “City-Region” panels and boards. And below that – at the district level – there’s a further set of such boards, panels and partnerships, all distant from the voter and all designed allow decisions to be made with the minimum of examination by voters.

So next time you rail about Brussels, take a look at your local area and remember that the system there merely reflects the way in which government operates under social democracy and the corporate state.

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3 comments:

Paulie said...

Surely it's simply an informal co-ordinating body? All of the decisions that member councils take are subject to the due process in those councils.

Anonymous said...

It might be due process in the council, but if there's already been a secret quorum and outcome agreed to in private behind closed doors, then tactics used in council might be employed to make it appear a legitimate outcome, when all votes are taken, but it would still be an obfuscation of the fact an agreement was arrived at long ago while in private.

It might be a hypocrisy to see this at a local level and complain about it in Brussels at the EU level, but the damage being done by EU is much larger, over a larger area, affecting more lives and costing a larger section of the economy.

And negating, investigating or disclosing such activity on a local level is still doing nothing to stop the EU from what it is carrying out continent wide.

So I still think complaining about EU's lack of transparency is a legitimate complaint - as is that against local councils meeting in secret cabals behind closed doors, but on a different level of lives affected and in which ways.

SadButMadLad said...

And with so many boards, associations, quangos, panels, and partnerships I bet that they all aren't singing from the same song sheet. More than likely with so many different organisations there will be different priorities which clash. So you have one creating while another destroys, but both are happy because "is is creating jobs".

Jobs are a cost, not a benefit to quote someone called Tim.