Thursday, 12 April 2018

Postcode lotteries (or why England is the most centralised large country in the world)

I don't know about you, but the term 'postcode lottery' makes my blood boil. We hear it all the time with its implication that everything should be the same everywhere or else things aren't fair. I get emails lobbying me to propose changes (usually expensive changes) because "it's a postcode lottery".

Here's a typical example:
'Our extensive new report highlights the bizarre situation where charity shops from the same chain, delivering exactly the same services and performing in exactly the same way, can get a completely different package of support in terms of rate relief and waste disposal charges simply because they are located on different sides of an authority boundary,’ said Robin Osterley, the chief executive of the Charity Retail Association.
Yes folks, these charities aren't getting the same deal from every local council because different councils exercise their discretion differently on business rates and waste collections. And therefore something should be done (by implication to make everywhere the same, to remove Council discretion).

There's a reason for much of this - national media and politics. I remember Anne Widdecombe explaining how, regardless of devolution, the national media expected a minister to appear on TV to explain why something or other was a postcode lottery (or failing, or underfunded, or inefficient). So long as this is the case, national government will tell local government what it has to do and how to do it while probably not providing 100% of the necessary resources.

I guess this explains comedian Geoff Norcott's observation (following his appearance on Question Time) that the politicians on the panel end up answering incredibly minor concerns ('dog poo in the paddling pool') that would be better addressed to the Parish Council.

My modest proposal - for when, by acclaim, you make me God Emperor for a week - is that we should ban the term 'postcode lottery' because it is helping destroy flexibility, creativity and innovation by local councils. Not that councils are all that good at this stuff (although we are massively better at it that national government) but, if councils have more discretion, people would be a lot closer to the people - elected people - making decisions about their lives.

And while we're about this business (and I'm still God Emperor) I would stop MPs having huge well-funded constituency offices full of people that go around doing things that really should be done by local councillors - and, yes, I'd devolve the benefits system, immigration administration and much else too. Frankly, we elect MPs to go down to London because we've got better things to do with our lives and, anyway, can't all fit into that fancy faux-gothic pile they've got to work in. And when those MPs have all got there, maybe they can stop fussing about postcode lotteries and let local councils get on with their job of running local services.


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