Shares for rights: The right to have your opinion listened to has been ignored

If you ever wonder why people think government consultations are just a matter of routine that they get out of the way before they go and do what they’ve always planned, then the Government’s response to their ‘shares for rights’ proposal (PDF file) won’t surprise you at all. It’s a masterpiece of setting out all the reasons people have objected to the policy and pointed out reasons why it’s not needed and why it won’t work, then blithely responding that the Government intends to press ahead anyway.

As the Guardian reports (and LabourList illustrates with nice graphs) the clear majority of responses were against the proposals, but the changes suggested within the government response are cosmetic at best.

It appears that yet again, ideology has trumped evidence, and George Osborne will be continuing to push ahead with this, regardless of the fact that almost no one appears to want it. The effort put into this could have been put into some real measures to promote employee ownership, mutuals and co-operatives, but instead we have this scheme which seems to be a way for unscrupulous employers to screw their employees out of rights in exchange for a few magic beans, or for rich investors and their ilk to find more ways to avoid paying capital gains tax.

What really annoys is that while the fingerprints of the Treasury are all over it, this scheme is being pushed by the BIS department, which is one with a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State and Minister. (Indeed, one of Jo Swinson’s first roles at the department was appearing in the introduction to the consultation) They surely must have seen the reaction that this has had from the party, so why did they not take the opportunity to kill it when they were given the tools to do so? Indeed, why were they even attempting to push it through in the first place (under the smokescreen that we supported employee ownership, so we should support this)?

There’s no evidence supporting this proposal, there’s clearly no will or desire for it, it’s not in the Coalition Agreement and has never been approved by the party conference, so Liberal Democrats in Parliament should have no hesitation in voting it down and removing it.

(Re)drawing the lines

I have been informed that the Local Government Boundary Commission for England are planning to review the boundaries for Colchester Borough over the next couple of years. (This is the ward boundaries within the Borough, not the size and shape of the Borough as a whole)

I was expecting this to happen soon, as the growth within the Borough has meant that the discrepancy in population size between wards was getting rather large in some cases, and even if they hadn’t decided to run a review, we’d likely soon reach the point where one would have been automatically triggered.

The last review of the Colchester boundaries took place in 1999-2000. Up until that point, High Woods had been part of the Mile End ward, and the growth there in the 90s meant that ward was almost twice the average size, which led to Highwoods ward being created, as well as a number of other changes across the Borough – rearrangement of the rural boundaries, Wivenhoe being split into Cross and Quay wards, St Mary’s ward losing the St Mary’s area to Castle and becoming Christ Church amongst them.

The boundary review process is a lengthy one, especially as this one will begin with a review of the number of councillors for the Borough. The last review kept the number at 60, though there was obviously some redistribution of where they were, but there has been a trend in recent years for reducing the number of councillors, especially now most of the power is wielded by the Cabinet rather than the full Council meeting.

The review will look at the population at the time it takes place, along with projected growth in the Borough for the next five years, so there may well be big changes in areas to the boundaries in areas like Mile End and Stanway which are set to have a large boost in population during that time.

You’ve got plenty of time to think about this, as the review won’t properly start until August 2013, and that’ll just be preliminary data-gathering. Proper consultations won’t begin until 2014, with the aim being for proposals to be completed by early 2015, with a full council election on the new boundaries taking place in 2016. (And thinking purely selfishly, I don’t know what impact on my next election, which is scheduled for 2015 on the old boundaries)

The boundary review is just that, and can’t make any other major changes to the Council, though it can recommend whether we continue to elect by thirds or have all-up elections. However, it can’t recommend anything relating to unitary authority status, or suggest any electoral system for the council other than first past the post (even if that system regularly thwarts the will of the voters)

So, if you have any thoughts, please feel free to share them with me and I’ll feed them into the process when and where I can. There will be public consultations as part of the process, too.