Local democracy and associated issues like decentralisation, localisation and autonomy are frequently in the international news. A few recent items are shared below.
Recommendation to localise parts of the UK rail network
Concerned about the performance of the rail services in the United Kingdom a transport charity has called for city authorities to have more control over the management of regional networks. A new report from the Campaign for Better Transport argues for a new national rail policy including the replacement of the franchise system with a flexible outcome-based one which allows competitive intercity services, concessions for commuter areas, and specialist agreements for areas seeing significant change and investment.
Included in the recommendations is a call for the devolution of procurement and oversight of services, with the management of regional networks devolved to city authorities and sub-regional transport bodies. It argues that these are better placed to oversee services and are more able to integrate the railway with wider local transport networks. The report can be found here.
Call for councils to play a bigger role in social policy in Tasmania
Shortly before Christmas the Tasmanian Labour Party local government spokeswoman, Anita Dow, said there was opportunity for targeted investment to allow local government to play a bigger role in areas such as employment, education and preventative health.
She noted that a number of Tasmanian councils were already successfully involved in local employment programs and some preventative health activities with Burnie City Council being a good example. Burnie City provides employment and education programs to its communities.
Localism is not a new idea
The former Member of Parliament, Nandor Tanchos, called for a “radical localism” noting that “because power is seen as flowing down from her Majesty, rather than originating in the people and flowing up to Parliament, local bodies provide no constitutional constraint on the Government” (Waikato Times p. 6 6/8/2010).
Local democracy under fire in Florida
The United States of America is often regarded as one of the world’s most localised nations, with more than 95,000 different types of local authorities, and so citizens have a say on a substantial range of issues. What is often not known is that local governments themselves have little if any constitutional protection and are creatures of their respective state governments. State governments are not always supportive of the decisions their council make, for example a recent case of Florida.
A report from Integrity Florida details how the state government has used it powers of pre-emption to block local elected officials from taking action on matters of concern to local citizens, going so far as to fine, suspend and even remove from office councillors that consider and vote on matters subject to a pre-emptions.
Local governments are the labs of democracy; this is where we are supposed to be innovative and forward thinking, the state legislature should not prevent local governments from carrying out this mandate (Joshua Simmons, City Commissioner Coral Springs).
Pre-emption is a legal doctrine that empowers the state to over-ride local government when they differ. Designed to ensure there were no inconsistencies between local and state laws, state governments, like Florida, have adopted what are known as “punitive pre-emption” powers to not only block but punish councillors who vote for matters subject to pre-emption. Such matters include:
- Firearms regulation;
- Smokefree regulations;
- Banning polystyrene and plastic bags;
- Pest control;
- Local signage;
- Affordable housing e.g. inclusionary zoning; and
- The minimum wage.
The report “Pre-emption Strategy: the attack on home rule in Florida”, can be found here.