By Perry Miller
The average turnout in English council elections is a derisory 35%. Hold a general election on the same day and you can push that up to 65%. The glamour of national politics still holds its grip on our imagination.
I’ve never really understood this: when it comes to impact on our daily lives, it’s surely local government that’s way out ahead. Sure, I can gape, slack-jawed, at the antics of the Prime Minister and his advisers, or down tools once a year to listen to the Chancellor’s plans for tax on booze and cigs, but I find it’s people much closer to home who can deliver daily pleasure or inconvenience in equal measure.
So, it’s infuriating to hear, as I did on BBC radio the other day, that we’re going to the polls on 6 May ‘to decide who collects our bins.’ That’s such a depressing take on what will be the biggest set of elections in almost 40 years: 39 Police & Crime Commissioners are facing the polls, as well as 7 combined authority mayors, 5 single authority mayors, 21 county councils, 33 metropolitan authorities, 28 unitary…etc. You get the picture.
But it suits the narrative of those in power at a national level to decry the role and status of local authorities. Where would we be without the Taxpayers’ Alliance’s annual ‘Town Hall Rich List’, quoted with fake indignation by The Daily Mail.
Columnists earning a decent living themselves devote inches of newsprint to the salaries of officers and councillors and splutter over the fact that they might earn more than the Prime Minister. They muddle the non-elected professionals with the elected politicians, forgetting that council leaders earn a fraction of the Prime Minister’s salary, while controlling budgets that run into the hundreds of millions of pounds. The members’ allowance in my borough is under £12,000 per annum.
Over the past 12 months in my neighbourhood, we’ve seen a tree planting programme, twice weekly recycling collections introduced, brand new play facilities in the local park, investment in open air gyms, ambitious plans for a Low Traffic Neighbourhood. Across the borough, there’s a major council housebuilding programme underway, free school meals for all primary school pupils and 100% council tax discount for the poorest families.
You don’t have to like any of the above. You might think I’m a bleeding heart liberal and it’s a huge waste of cash. But that’s the beauty of voting local – you get to decide about the things that are closest to you.
So I’ll be straight down the polling station on Thursday next week. I gotta protect my bin collection…