Imagine if our local authority had authority

I remember the time, way back, when the school RI syllabus changed from (Christian) Bible Study to Comparative Religion – a far more interesting, more-inclusive, approach that opened our young minds to a world we would not have encountered.

Ever since, I’ve approached any challenging study by standing back and surveying the wider scene. The thorny topic of how we are, or perhaps could be, governed is a classic case. How often do we recall the theme tune of The Magic Roundabout, and Dougal, shaking his head sorrowfully and muttering, ‘ What a way to run a railway ’.

The governance question is particularly relevant at this Covid time. The downsides of a highly centralised regime are only too apparent. But alternatives are difficult to imagine. We have a complex mix of Metro, County and Local bodies, with competing tensions, widely different community needs, vested interests, and arcane budget formulae whose rationale seems lost in ancient history – as we call last year.

So I found myself listening to Bo Frank – not least because, back in 2010, I led a Scottish delegation to Sweden in search of Full Fibre futures. Bo was Mayor of a town we didn’t visit, but one that seems typical of the many places we explored.

Växjö’s overall population is comparable to Fareham, and similarly spread over several communities. Bo Frank was Mayor or deputy mayor from 1991-2016 and is now president of the council. The place also has a strong boating community – albeit an inland lake rather than the Solent or Portsmouth harbour. It was that lake, or rather its pollution, that in 1996 set the communities on a determined environmental mission to become fossil free by 2030 – and there the similarities end.

There is no substitute for listening to this 22-minute podcast via Spotify. Settle down and absorb the many differences between Fareham and Växjö. Then ask yourself what Fareham Borough Council would do if it had the same sense of responsibility and authority as Växjö. Suggestions welcome in the comments section below.

3 thoughts on “Imagine if our local authority had authority

  1. I’m a great believer in local democracy. It seems to me that places like France where the Mayor has some power (ie budget) have a lot more people involvement. But maybe that’s why British government try to keep control centrally. They don’t want people to be involved in where their money goes

  2. Having listened again to Bo Frank’s podcast interview, I’m wondering about crises that trigger strong local responses. How deep and how local must a crisis be to trigger a community-wide determined response?
    History suggests very extreme and very local – and even then, a solid response will still need inspired local leadership.

    For example, Chattanooga in Eastern Tennessee only turned a corner when it featured on national TV as the most-polluted place in the entire US. Twenty years later its regeneration is the envy of many mid-sized US cities and the 4th floor of its public library is legendary.

    Similarly, a little nearer home, Dundee rebooted itself after the demise of local industries and massive unemployment. Small villages in rural Lancashire have found their own solution to overcome inadequate broadband and, in doing so, have triggered a renaissance in both community spirit and economic wellbeing.

    In Bo Frank’s town, it was the pollution of the local lake that triggered the action. Is it possible that that our maritime, fishing and coastal communities are blissfully unaware of nitrate pollution in the Solent?

    Perhaps the current Covid-19 pandemic crisis is not yet severe enough here in Fareham to act as a community driver? Perhaps global climate challenges seem too distant to drive collaborative action? Perhaps polluted Solent waters have not yet killed off enough marine life (or people) to cause a ripple of revulsion?

    Or perhaps we don’t have any one leading the collaborative effort to clean up our waters and get rid of pollutants at source?

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