Sunday, 7 January 2018

Winding back the clock

It's very often the little things that point to the broader malaise in UK governance. Today I learn that Flintshire County Council has removed the 20% discretionary funding relief for business rates for all Flintshire Scout Groups. This has left groups with annual rates bills of upwards of £300 per group. 

Scout groups are not businesses. The Scout Association and Scout groups are registered as charitable organisations and are entirely run by local volunteers who give up their time and put energy into providing the adventure of Scouting to young people across Flintshire.

These such activities, along with cadets and other comparable groups are part of the social fabric. They have a role in socialising children, giving them skills and learning opportunities outside of the education framework, providing them with role models and routine along with opportunities to make friends. They are essential to community. 

In the modern mode of local governance, however, they are just another taxable entity on a spreadsheet regardless of their social function - and the value they add in keeping kids off the streets and giving them something worthwhile to do, which no doubt has an impact on their later lives. 

What this move points to is a culture of remote corporate governance which has no connection to those it nominally serves. One that sees these such activities as yet another burden rather than an integral part of the community. 

Essential to the functioning of any community is the volunteer ethos and in times when local government is having to scale back its provisions, its first course of action should be to promote any and all voluntary activity in the wider community from playgoups, churches and mosques, through to cadets and scout groups. Instead it dreams up new ways to tax them. 

Over Christmas, admittedly after a quantity of gin and tonic, I tweeted "My mum spent her life making dinners for the elderly on our street, popping her head round the door to check if all is well every other day. Now she's 70, nobody on the street will do the same for her. That's what's changed. That's why Brexiters want to "wind the clock back".

To my surprise this went viral, prompting a number of sneering (and hugely predictable) remarks, even spawning its own article in The Poke. The subtext being "Ha ha, look at the silly brexiter harking back to the olden days". But the point stands.

We have over the years seen a gradual erosion of community and community minded people. That, in part is a consequence of the bureaucratisation of civil society where everything must be stamped, sanctioned, numbered and approved by the state - and subsequently taxed.

Childcare used to happen on a community basis. Playgroups and Cubs groups were commonplace. But then everybody suddenly become a criminal or suspected paedophile and everybody had to go on a database at their own expense. 

We saw the professionalisation of childminding which then meant registration, certification and real world adult wages and workplace rights. Soon after childcare become an industry and it ruled young mums out of taking part time work. If you work, you need expensive childcare. The response to this was another bureaucratic voucher system consuming yet more more money. 

This gradual appropriation and regulation of just about every facet of life has destroyed the voluntary ethos and in so doing has destroyed communities and made people entirely dependent on mechanisms of the state. Our welfare policy is an extension of this. The nationalisation of poor people.

If I "wind the clock back" to about 1998, I remember working as a database developer in a disability charity. In a short time I saw it close its volunteer run high street charity shop (formerly a major source of funding). I saw it close its doors to community activity to become primarily a fundraising and grant chasing organisation. 

Any actual community work directly for disabled people went on the back burner and was scaled down. By taking over some of the statistics gathering functions of social services it become a quasi-corporate enterprise with full time pensioned staff, most of whom performed administrative functions. I have watched the same happen to dozens of charities ever since. The quangoificiation of charity. 

The state has expanded to the point of demolishing spontaneity in the community, and part of the reason "austerity" bites so hard is because we lack the civil society institutions to plug the gaps. It is then little wonder then that we find an epidemic of loneliness in pensioners, and an increasingly selfish society far too used to abnegating citizenship obligations to local government.

The consequence of this is remote governance acting without civil society participation, and a culture which actively excludes it. Now we have a situation where we find bin collections and road gritting (that which councils are actually for) are pruned to keep social provisions running. So deeply ingrained is this managerial mentality that the left scream blue murder at the very existence of civil society enterprises like food banks. 

As to what this has to do with Brexit, this is not especially the fault of the EU, rather the EU is a symptom of this drift toward technocratic managerialism which starts in local councils and goes all the way up to the Brussels level. At every level, government confiscates power from the public and that power drifts toward the centre. That is why Brexit of itself only goes part of the way to restoring a civic balance.

Where Brexit becomes more relevant is when we ask the question of whether this paradigm is sustainable. We are seeing a collapse of civil society while government finds it is unable to effectively cope with all the demands placed upon it. It's doing too much and doing it less well than civil society could. Only civil society is no longer allowed to perform those functions. 

Since we are incapable of having that grown up debate about whether we, as a society, can continue to have our cake and eat it, adding ever more pressures while demanding the same entitlements, we really have to force the issue. Most people will admit that Britain is a far wealthier place than it was but by the same token, we can all admit that something has been lost, something vital is missing and for many, Britain is not a better place than it once was to live in. 

Sneer at that if you will. Pour scorn on it, belittle it and mock it. That's all fine. But in so doing, you become the very reason why 52% of the public voted to leave. Meanwhile, here is a petition so you can tell Flintshire Council where they can shove their business rates. 

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