The Scottish referendum has left England with a problem. We want some of what they have. Local devolution for England has become the political hot topic. Politicians are scrambling to be in the forefront and put forward their own solutions to the calls for more powers to the English regions.

David Cameron and the Conservatives are already calling for Scottish MPs to be excluded from ‘English’ votes, whatever that means. Some may, however, see this as a cynical attempt to exclude 40 odd Scottish Labour votes from English issues and thereby secure an almost permanent Tory majority on these so-called English policies.

Nick Clegg has put most of his weight behind devolution to areas like the Sheffield city region, probably lead by an elected Mayor, a hugely powerful position commanding huge budgets. Ed Miliband and Labour meanwhile seem content to put the matter into the hands of a constitutional convention, if they wins the next election, and oppose suggestions of an English Parliament.

As usual the people are being told what they want by the MPs in Westminster, most of whom spend their time worrying about whether they’ll have a job after the next election. What is certain is that the way we are governed locally is up for debate and, eventually, decision. What is not certain is whether Whitehall will take the time to produce a solution that is an improvement on what we have now or whether we will have another piece of half-baked legislation like the Police & Crime Commissioners (PCC).

Where does the PCC fit into this? It’s simple really. MPs, elected Mayors and elected PCCs cannot easily be removed between elections. The legislation for each gives them big powers, big salaries and big responsibilities, but we can’t get rid of them between elections. Readers will be aware of the tragedy in Rotherham. The PCC, despite many calls for him to do so, refused to resign. His belief in his right to be in that post, no matter what anyone else said, led to unsavoury and violent demonstrations in the town. The local authorities that his police force serve could not get rid of him and nor could the so-called scrutiny panel that were there to monitor his actions.

Mayors are elected under very similar rules. It is true that a city with a Mayor can decide to change its way of being governed and ditch the Mayor, but only after that Mayor has served his or her term. How much damage a bad Mayor could do in their term of office doesn’t bear thinking about. All Mayors are not bad and the continent has had strong Mayors for centuries, but even there they remain a mixed blessing. The Mayor of Paris recently gave the people of Paris 5% of the city’s budget to spend how they wanted, voting for a choice of 15 projects. A very popular move with many people, but at the same time Paris struggles under a huge budget deficit, a much less popular situation.

Then there are MPs, voted in by less and less of the electorate and yet we are stuck with them between elections even if we want rid of them. A recent rash of defections from the Conservatives to UKIP illustrates the problem. You may think you vote for a party but you don’t. You vote for an individual. That individual can resign from their party at any time without resigning from their seat. They can remain an MP, as an independent or as a member of a different party.

So, when the MPs finally tell us what we want by way of devolution in England, check the small print. Make sure we are in charge of the new structures, not them, and make sure we can get rid of the bad apples more easily than MPs, Mayors and PCCs.

thepublicinterestsheffield.blogspot.co.uk

Nigel Slack