Leeds Liberal Democrats have called for Leeds City Council to set up a ‘Community Devolution Commission’ to counter what they see as a dangerous level of centralised control of spending and service delivery within the Council.
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Stewart Golton is proposing the amendment that would bring about the Community Devolution Commission at the Council’s Annual Budget Meeting on Wednesday. He said:
“The Council has a proud tradition of setting up Commissions to look at significant areas of concern for the city – there was the Poverty Truth Commission that looked to make sure decision makers viewed poverty through the eyes of those who lived with it every day. There was also the Commission for the Future of Local Government, that sought to clarify a way for the Council to show leadership and shape services that it didn’t necessarily need to deliver itself in the city. The Community Devolution Commission is a natural next step, and just as ambitious in reappraising how we aim to make sure every community has the capacity and agency to influence public services intended for their benefit.”
Leeds City Council set up ‘Area Committees’ a decade ago and devolved some services down to be scrutinised at a local level, but drew those functions back to the centre over time. ‘Community Committees’ replaced Area Committees, and have little influence over Council decisions taken in their area.
“Local residents mostly don’t know that Community Committees exist, and those that do invariably dismiss them as talking shops. They have no authority to intervene on the Council closing a care home, a library, a youth club or a community centre. They cannot even influence whether the grass is cut on local parks, or how investment is made on local highways or council owned housing estates. Too often those decisions are desk top exercises enacted by council officers and senior councillors who have never set foot in the community or premises their decision is affecting. That leads to bad decisions, and wasted opportunities as well as money.”
One area of over-centralised decision making in particular is emphasised in the amendment- that if the Central Lettings Service, which is proposed to be absorbed into the Communities team, which itself will be restructured and refocused to take on oversight of local facilities like Community Centres, and enable greater community involvement in how they operate.
“Community centres under Council ownership have no local management at all. They have no individual budget, no business plan. They have no caretaker. Their building maintenance is looked after one team based in Leeds city centre, their cleaning by another team based in Leeds City Centre, their charging rates and booking system by the Community Lettings Team, based in Leeds City Centre. Is it any wonder they end up becoming tatty, overpriced and underused relics that the Council then complain are too costly to retain and try to sell off? The Community Devolution Commission has the potential to put an end to such administrative dysfunction, and enable a more equitable balance between the Civic Hall and outlying communities, to deliver better value, better fitting services all round.”