Saturday, February 25, 2006

Corporate responsibility

The Birmingham Post reports today that business leaders have demanded equal representation with elected councillors on a proposed regional body - which would assume the functions of existing quangos like Advantage West Midlands (the regional development agency).

I'm not opposed to the creation of an effective regional operation to manage issues that affect the whole area - public transport should be managed on a broader basis than just that in Birmingham. Joined-up thinking demands an integrated policy involving all the local councils. It would also be of value to have all the councils pulling together when it comes to attracting businesses and tourists, so to have a common pot of money for investment and development makes absolute sense.

I'd also support the involvement in this body of other key stakeholders - like businesses, but also including educationalists, trade unions, health workers and others with specialist knowledge.

What does bother me is the notion that business people are the equal of elected members when it comes to doling out public money. I've said before that my experience within the private sector doesn't suggest to me that management and financial responsibility is any better than that within the public sector, no matter how much we lionise successful businessmen and idolise privatisation as the solution to all our woes. My chief concern is that non-elected members have no wider responsibility - businesses in particular are responsible solely to their shareholders. Whatever we may think of the calibre of people like Mike Whitless, they are elected and have a responsibility to their electorate. We have a choice about that and we can remove them from office if we so wish.

By all means, let's follow the example of the Ward Advisory Boards operating in parts of Birmingham, which draw together talents from a range of interest groups and can work well to identify problems and solutions. Ultimately, though, the responsibility for the distribution of public money must rest with those responsible to the public - the elected members. I think that's a fair cornerstone for democracy, don't you?

1 comment:

e-tat said...

"Mike Whitby, the leader of Birmingham City Council, said talk of a directly elected mayor was "trite" and risked shifting the debate away from the real issue, which was how to move the control of budgets and decision-making power away from Whitehall and back to the West Midlands."

Agreed. Here's a neatly encapsulated theory about it: there's a gigantic red herring in our midst, whose main purpose is to distract from more pressing issues. The government having failed to deliver - catastrophically - on terms of its own choosing, is now trying to break something that doesn't need fixing as a means of diverting attention away from those failures.

What BCCom's Frost doesn't acknowledge is that better working between current local authorities and quangos is needed in any case, and that proper teamwork will deliver better results than any governmental reorganisation. (In a backhand way, Frost is saying that he doesn't want to play ball with local government, and instead wants 'business' to have a blocking vote in every local decision.)

What's really required is a means of compelling the entire bunch to work together. Whilst that might occur under the aegis of a mayor, there's no guarantee of it, so I am happy to keep the current system, save the 'restructuring costs' for something else, and get on with the task at hand.

Full article here