Just seen the new coalition’s programme for government. It reminds me of an attempt to consolidate all the outputs from a management away day. You know the sort of thing I mean; all the groups scawl overlapping or contradictory ideas on a set of flipcharts then some poor sod has to write them all up and make sense of them. Invariably, that person gives up and just summarises each flipchart one after the other, removing any obvious howlers and hoping that no-one will notice the rest.
That seems to be what happened here because each of the headings covers a number of subjects and the detail is scattered throughout so you have to look around to find the bits you are interested in. For example there is a business section, a taxation section and a local government section. Under which of those headings would you expect to find the proposal for supplementary business rates? Wrong! It’s under Section 24 – ‘Political Reform’ (page 28).
On local government (page 11):
We will promote the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. This will include a review of local government finance.
But (page 12):
We will freeze Council Tax in England for at least one year, and seek to freeze it for a further year, in partnership with local authorities.
So councils will have financial autonomy except when it comes to raising taxes.
What about central government and its agencies? On page 27:
We will improve the civil service, and make it easier to reward the best civil servants and remove the least effective.
But (page 21):
We will require anyone paid more than the Prime Minister in the centrally funded public sector to have their salary signed off by the Treasury.
Whatever the rhetoric about devolution, empowerment and autonomy, once in government, politicians are very reluctant to give up control of the purse strings.
The government attitude can be broadly summed up as:
We will give you full control over anything that doesn’t involve spending much money.
Same as it ever was then.