Monday 28 December 2015

Just the Business!

I have been thinking about the shift away from central government funding for councils – which is a good change as it will remove the historic tendency of certain-flavour governments in particular to manipulate the funding formula (along with 'tweaks' and suchlike) to favour those councils their party runs – and how it will affect us here in Medway, Kent.

The change to retention by councils of Business Rates in their entirety, instead of a large chunk of those funds going to central government for re-distribution, as has been the case for decades, makes local government much more truly 'local' and less susceptible to (largely-hidden from public view) control from Westminster and Whitehall.

It will, however, necessitate sufficient business rates income to make up the difference, and perhaps could even exceed the original overall council income including Council Tax revenues. Not all communities or council areas as a whole have the same level of local businesses as, say, a typical London borough or other notably commercial area.

Here in Medway, we do have a lot of business, from retail (two shopping centres, dozens of shopping parades, several standalone shops & stores, plus a few retail parks) via offices to a good chunk of commercial and industrial businesses.

Apart from all the industrial and similar enterprises on the Hoo Peninsula, especially at Grain and by Hoo St Werburgh, we also have Gillingham Business Park, Medway City Estate, Rochester Airport Industrial Estate, Second & Third Avenues in Luton, and the Knight Road area of Strood.

We also have a considerable tourism sector, primarily but not exclusively in Rochester.
Overall we should be set fair to pull our own weight, and once we are settled in to the new arrangements we might well find we are much happier in this regard than we have been for many years, ever since the Blair government really started manipulating the grant funding they controlled back then, which was the largest chunk of income that council's received.
Readers might not be aware that, for example, the very similar to us (in council terms and needs) Brighton & Hove received over £50 million more than Medway in central government grant every year. They, of course, were a Labour-run council.
Such gerrymandering will not be possible from 2020, so expect Labour to find ways to complain about this change being 'unfair', 'discriminatory', or one of their other favourite labels for things they don't like. In this case, it will be because the councils they run will have to perform much better than many of them have tended to endemically, and they will no longer be bailed out.
Interestingly we saw an example of that here in Medway when Labour ran our council's finances some 16 or 17 years ago. The council was bailed out by the then Labour government because their local bods messed up hugely – even delaying paying bills until after the end of the financial year – and needed several million Pounds.
Their replacements have consistently produced balanced budgets ever since (though it wasn't easy with that gerrymandered funding I mentioned above) so it could have been done by a competent council administration – and that is what will, over time, come out once these new funding arrangements are fully in place.
A lot of Labour-run councils are going to come under the spotlight, and their profligacy and incompetence will become very public. They will have to either shape up or in all probability be voted out of control of those councils. Thus much of the rot within local councils will be excised, along with its subsidy by the rest of us – and that will be good for everybody in the long term, also in restoring confidence in local government.

Divide and Not Rule

Further to the Corbyn/Labour situation, this short item at Political Betting shows how dire things already are. Bearing in mind that it was the public who overwhelmingly selected Corbyn to be the new party leader, not Labour MPs, and it is that same pool of people who are polled for both leader approval polling and voting intention surveys, this makes it even worse than could otherwise have been the case. That initial broad support in August/September is no longer there.

Though, as it says at the linked post, "things can happen", and there is a long time to go until the next scheduled General Election in May 2020, the conclusion at the end is unambiguous: another Conservative majority seems almost certain.

In fact, it might not work out that way, but unless there is a drastic change to Labour, they at least look set to become either the third or possibly even fourth largest party group in the House of Commons after that election.

It is unlikely that Labour will regain any of their former seats in Scotland, which is a crucial factor; indeed the SNP might well take the remaining three seats north of the border, making them possibly the third largest group in the Commons, with UKIP (if they are still around by then) gaining a large number of frankly undeserved seats via the back door, as the only remaining perceived to be non-establishment Britain-wide party.

I hear that UKIP are doing particularly well in Wales at the moment, so watch out for signs of this growing over the months and years to come. I personally think that their tactics there will continue to bring dividends for a while, but will falter after next May if they can't turn that into seats anywhere, or in subsequent years as more and more council seats in Wales come up for re-election.

An alternative scenario – and the one I have been anticipating for a while now as being the more likely, despite what some insiders are saying right now – is an SDP-like split and a new party being formed. My thinking is that this is most likely to occur soon after next May's council and police & crime commissioner elections if (as expected) Labour do at all badly.

This new party would probably hold most of the seats that the immediate defection takes with it, come May 2020, and could pick up a number of the remaining Labour MPs' seats as well, reducing the latter group to a very small number of members. This would be a healthy thing for British politics, both national and local, as again a Communist totalitarian-tendency movement will be marginalised, just as has always happened in the past – and that is what they are looking set to become exclusively.

Okay, the whole of Labour is essentially 'mild Marxist', tempered and slowed by its long-standing Fabian practices, but has generally been manageable and has never quite completely wrecked our nation – though it has been close once or twice, including just a very few years ago. A Corbyn-led (and, essentially, selected) set of Labour-labelled candidates is a very different proposition!

Interestingly, all of what has been happening with Labour has been more-or-less inevitable from the moment the Conservatives formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, back in May 2010.
A very few people around these parts might remember that I have been smiling as I told them in years gone by something of what I expected to follow over the period ahead; and most of that has now panned out – actually slightly better than I had predicted back then.

It was so easy to predict, simply because of the underlying nature of the Labour party, its rules, and both its higher echelons and the ordinary and Union-based members – and there is much more yet to come, equally predictable!