Historic local authorities were merged

WHEN I was first elected to local government in the 1960s the leader of the council was a chap who ran the district in his spare time. Meetings were mostly held in

WHEN I was first elected to local government in the 1960s the leader of the council was a chap who ran the district in his spare time. Meetings were mostly held in the evenings and he was his own press officer. His surgery was the front room in his house in the ward he represented. He didn't receive a penny from the ratepayers in salary or expenses. Neither did most of his fellow councillors who in the main had real jobs and gave their time voluntarily, although in a few cases there was a loss of earnings allowance.The streets were clean, the parks and grass verges were immaculate, the roads were in good repair, car parks were free and the dustbins were emptied once and in some cases twice a week. That was about all anyone wanted from their local authority. The town hall was an impressive edifice in the centre of the town, a symbol of stability and civic pride.Within a short time the system of local government with which we were familiar was swept away in a frenzy of corporatism and modernisation. Traditional boundaries were erased and historic local authorities were merged into super councils. A new era of professionalism was ushered in. The old breed of town clerk with a sense of duty was replaced by a managerial class of chief executive out of the national newspapers' job page who pretended they were employed to run major commercial organisations and expected this to reflect in their salaries.Councillors began to receive out-of-pocket expenses and allowances, paving the way for full-time council leaders earning large salaries.Councils embarked on a recruiting and spending spree. Out went the frugal 'ways and means' departments, devoted to keeping costs down. In came corporate finance divisions, money no object. The Parks Committee became the 'leisure and amenities' directorate while hideous new leisure centres were built at vast expense.And so we arrive where we find ourselves today, with grandiose council 'cabinets', vast PR departments and a local authority with foreign policy and diversity directorates.Councils are run for the benefit of those who work there, not for the people who pay them. Despite all the parrot-type jargon of councils blaming Governments and vice versa, is it any wonder council tax has all but doubled over the past few years.We once had the council chamber filled with bakers, butchers and builders, etc. We now have a generation of full-time councillors whom have never held down a proper job in their lives. Planning decisions are not taken by someone who lives around the corner but by bureaucrats and rubber-stamp political lobby fodder in the name of a central government directive.So remote have local authorities become from the paying public that few think it even worth bothering to vote in local elections any more because they don't believe it will make the slightest difference.Meanwhile the services we pay for are appalling. The local authority employs legions of elf 'n' safety individuals to find out what we want to do and then stop us. With their armies of inspectors and parking wardens they are part of the punishment culture aimed at screwing every last penny out of us to fund their pet projects. While bureaucracy gets ever more bloated, the streets are filthy, our parks are left to rot and are fit only for winos and glue sniffers. Roads are riddled with potholes or cluttered with unattended traffic cones, swimming pools and public toilets are shut and meals on wheels are under threat.The shameful, wasteful record of the local authority with extortionate rates of council tax are a running sore. Income is drying up, but expenditure carries on its merry way.GARETH JONES - Winscombe


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