Sunday, 16 April 2017

If we can't charge for park runs, what is the point of a local council?

Yesterday lots of people were running around smiling because of an announcement from the Government:
Councils in England will be banned from charging people to take part in weekend fun runs under rules being proposed by the government.

Free events, organised by the Parkrun group to encourage fitness, attract thousands of runners on 5km courses (3 miles) in parks across the country.

A parish council near Bristol last year proposed charging entrants £1 each, citing the cost of upkeep of paths.
And, of course, you all think it absolutely right that politicians in London ban Councils from deciding on things like what they can and cannot charge people or organisations for doing. Don't get me wrong here, I don't particularly think Councils should charge for park runs (although please note that crown green bowlers, cricketers and football players are charged to use facilities in public parks) but I do think that if we are to go to the trouble of electing local councillors to make decisions we should actually let them make those decisions. And, yes, that might include charging for a park run. If you don't like the decision you get the chance to vote out the people who made that decision. This is how the representative democracy lark works.

Except it doesn't really. I thought through the things we do as a local council - care for the elderly, look after the disabled, protect children, fix the roads, collect your rubbish, pick up the litter you drop, provide parks and hundreds of other services large and small. In every case the degree of genuine local control gets less and less each passing year. Our care services are determined by central government means tests, our children's services by national legislation and the threat of intervention, highways maintenance by centrally determined capital programmes, waste management by onerous EU regulations and, now it seems, Government wants to decide through legislation what we can and cannot do with the parks we manage.

Councils do a pretty good job - amidst a load of criticism - in administering the services we're asked to administer. And local councillors mostly do a great job (especially the Conservative ones) of helping people negotiate the nonsense of bureaucracy. We also provide a reality check on the innate daftness of government administrators. But these days our decision making is more and more limited to how we administer services within central government rules and trying to keep going the small number of non-statutory services such as allowing people to organise running round the park on a Sunday morning.

The park run case is about a council making a tricky decision about its budget. And then seeing a national organisation lobby central government to take away that council's right to make that tricky decision. So tell me, what is the point of a local council?



Anonymous said...

"I don't particularly think Councils should charge for park runs (although please note that crown green bowlers, cricketers and football players are charged to use facilities in public parks)"

Except that missing a key distinction, which is that the three other groups you mention all require facilities specifically created, maintained and reserved for them - be it a bowling green, cricket pitch or football pitch. -
which is why they are charged to use those facilities. Those partaking in a parkrun use the the same facilities which all other park users can use for free.

Martin Andrew said...

If extra maintenance or other costs (such as hot water and lighting) are incurred because of parkruns then they should be met from the public health budget.

James Higham said...

Interestingly, our council has just upped its game on waste disposal after an all out war [with me] and they're doing quite well.