13 February, 2012

Why is decentralisation imperative to our survival?

Have you ever noticed how London always seems to prosper, even in hard times and periods of rapid change?  How is that so when the rest of UK appears to be experiencing steady economic decline? Why, for example, are property values in London apparently unaffected by the recession and austerity measures now being imposed by the government while the rest of UK flounders in economic stagnation, flat or declining property values, growing unemployment and social decline?
The answer really is quite simple.

Generally speaking, the percentage of your pay packet that actually is available for spending in your local economy after paying for taxes, mortgages, insurance, utility bills and purchases from superstores, national chain stores or Internet stores, is minimal.  Most of your money, one way or another, finds its way to H.M.Treasury or out of town corporate head offices, usually based in London, at the expense of enriching your local economy.  This also means that land ownership becomes fragmented within communities as and when it is privately acquired or leased by these out of town corporations thus impeding development by local communities that may lack the financial resources to compete, particularly when common-land is in short supply or no longer available.  Reform of land ownership will likely become a growing issue and prerequisite to enabling increased local community land development.

For the past two centuries, London has not only been the seat of government but also the centre of finance, trade, commerce and economic decision making where our most significant corporations have chosen to maintain their headquarters, while industry developed and then declined elsewhere in Britain.  This has resulted in a substantial migration to London of not just the working population and immigrants but also our national income in the form of taxes paid, savings and investments and corporate profits.  It is no wonder that London and M25 dormitory towns have prospered while the rest of the nation is struggling.  Some people might even go so far as to say that this massive imbalance in the distribution of wealth and power has made London a voracious cancer or parasite sucking the life out of the rest of the nation (a legacy approach to governing inherited from our Empire days).  Why else would Scotland raise the thorny issue of independence from UK?

It is abundantly clear that radical surgery in the form of decentralisation is absolutely necessary if the patient (the nation) is to survive.  Moreover, London cannot survive on its own.  It is entirely dependent on imports of food, sources of energy and all other resources.  Its food footprint alone embraces much of southern England up to the Midlands.  In a world of rapidly depleting resources, London in its present form is unsustainable while its long and complex "just in time" food supply chains increasingly become hugely vulnerable to inexorably rising oil and gas prices.

Sensing a groundswell of national resentment, distrust and condemnation of the political, financial and corporate elites (based mainly in London) following the MPs expenses scandal and 2007/8 financial crisis, the government has set in motion legislation that it hopes will enable change by empowering Local Government and communities to have far more control of their destinies with the recent Royal Assent given to the Localism Act.  In theory, this Act should bring the decision-making processes closer to communities and make Local Authorities more accountable to the people they serve rather than central government (Whitehall Mandarins) that currently holds the purse strings and to whom they are now accountable.

A number of other Acts of Parliament are also being prepared to reform the NHS, Welfare, Justice, Planning and Education public services making them more accountable to end users and tax payers alike.  The government’s objectives are to simplify, reduce and streamline government thereby reducing administration costs as well as making government more transparent and accountable, quite often by privatising services and competitive tendering.  Consequently, we can expect strong resistance to this by the various government departments, professions, labour unions and contractors with vested interests in maintaining the status quo, many of whom could be said to have been milking the system for decades.  However, the nation is now essentially bankrupt and can no longer afford to function in its present form.  Radical change is necessary and inevitable or we risk ending up like Greece.

Projects that reinforce London’s central role in UK such as High Speed rail and a proposed new airport on the Thames estuary are “White Elephants” we cannot afford in these times of austerity with scarce resources when we have far higher priorities to attend to.  They are simply out of step with the government’s decentralisation policy and it is doubtful that we have the resources to implement them anyway.

The government are promoting their concept of the “Big Society” which makes it very clear that with the economy in recession and over-burdened with over-leveraged debt, it is up to local communities to become more self-sufficient and self-reliant – there are no substantial funds available to support communities in this endeavour.

We are entering a long period of debt de-leveraging (massive debt reduction or elimination) and economic stagnation as a result which could signal the beginning of a forced transition to a low-carbon steady state economy as the consequences of past reckless financial and economic decisions as well as rapidly depleting global resources, come to bear.

By now, it must be obvious to everyone that we have to develop local community solutions, through local worker owned social enterprise, to  mitigate the increasing high risk and probability of financial, economic and social collapse - especially if the Euro-zone collapses as many pundits predict.  This will also require communities to discover new ways to become as independent as possible of utility companies with ageing high maintenance infrastructures, as quickly as possible – for example, water and energy companies.  New technologies are being developed to enable this aided by Transition technologies being developed by the Transition Network.

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