- The Wessex Regionalists are a decentralist party committed to the principle of subsidiarity, according to which all decisions should be taken at the most relevant and local level of government as possible. We believe that local government should be local and it should be government. Successive Parliaments at Westminster have merged local authorities into remote and arbitrary units, while stripping them of power and responsibility, unwilling to trust them to deliver on the Cabinet’s party-political pledges.
- Our vision is of local government as the heart of decision-making, with regional, national and international institutions existing only to assist local communities in achieving their own priorities. Local people will be empowered to take more responsibility for the quality of life in their communities – a “bottom-up” approach to government rather than the present approach that is heavily “top-down”. Decisions must not be imposed on communities by remote and unaccountable governments, but influenced and changed by members of those communities affected. This localisation of political powers and decision-making will help enable and encourage self-reliant and self-sufficient community development.
- We believe that Whitehall rarely knows best and it is time to get it off our backs, giving locally-accountable councillors the freedom to do what they were elected to do. To ensure that such decisions truly represent the will of the electorate, we will introduce proportional representation for local elections, along with a right for electors to demand a by-election if their councillors go back on promises made. We believe that low turnout is the inevitable consequence of reducing local discretion. We will ensure that the question of who is elected to the council starts to matter again. We will also restore the powers of Town Meetings – assemblies of the whole population – to hold their councils to account. We do not favour a system of elected mayors, which would concentrate power into too few hands, nor city-regions, in which urban interests would swamp those of rural areas.
- Wessex is predominantly a land of villages and market towns. Our presumption will be that all public services should be organised by parish and town councils except where this is clearly shown to be impractical. We accept that larger areas have a continuing role but some existing districts are too large and bracket together communities with little in common. Local government areas should be based primarily upon communities with which people can identify, such as the historic parishes, boroughs and counties. Districts are necessary only to provide services that parishes and boroughs cannot provide for themselves but which do not need to be provided at county level. We see a future role for the historic ‘hundreds’ as more natural units of local government than the current districts; based on the oldest recorded boundaries these would also reflect traditional wisdom about the local ecology.
- The 1972 Local Government Act wrecked a centuries-old sense of allegiance to historic counties and boroughs. We salute the efforts of those who battled for recognition of traditional Gloucestershire and Somerset. We will finish the job, ensuring that Bournemouth and Christchurch, Abingdon and Didcot, Eton and Slough are recognised to be in Hampshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire respectively. Charter towns that lost their historic borough status in 1974 will have it restored.
- Where services cannot be provided effectively even at county level without cumbersome joint arrangements that blur accountability we will examine the case for transfer to the regional level. Subsidiarity will be the cornerstone of this policy.
- Planning decisions should be the responsibility of local communities. The right of developers to appeal to Whitehall against decisions they do not like will be removed. In future, the right of appeal – to the next wider tier of government – will be limited to adjoining communities affected by a decision.
A regionalist government in Wessex will:
- revoke the laws that allow Whitehall to dictate how local authorities organise themselves, how much money they can raise and what they can spend it on
- introduce proportional representation for local elections, along with a right for electors to call a by-election if their councillors go back on promises made
- restore traditional local government areas and status, including Berkshire County Council, for as many purposes as proves practical, and borough status to charter towns
- limit developers’ right of appeal against planning decisions, and extend the rights of neighbouring local authorities to oppose developments that would damage their communities.
- replace the existing district councils with traditional hundreds
Meanwhile, the Wessex Regionalists will:
- oppose the new-style local cabinets conducting routine business in secret
- campaign for the restoration of real county boundaries on official maps.