Councillors have taken steps to devolving power and money away from Kirklees Council to communities.

A cross-party committee agreed they had to ask the community to get involved in local decision making.

It could be the ward councillors, area committees, town and parish councils or other bodies take over some council functions.

Kirklees admits change is needed and it cannot afford to continue in the same way, so devolving functions to four areas is one solution.

By 2017 the council’s budget will have reduced by £129m a year compared to 2010’s budget.

One way is for others to take over parks, street cleaning and roads, while assets such as public buildings could be taken over by community groups. Kirklees says community-led groups at a local level can access money that is not available to councils.

We asked for the views of experts, the community and an Area Committee chair:

Pete Woodcock, Huddersfield University politics lecturer, said: “I think every political party will say they don’t like centralisation and yet in government and local authorities I think all parties are often quite guilty of it.

“Everybody would like more power devolved, it’s a question of to whom.

Dr. Pete Woodcock
Dr. Pete Woodcock
 

“One example was David Cameron’s Big Society which came up with the notion that community groups will take over services done by local authorities and yet people felt uncomfortable with it.

“It will be intriguing to see how it works, it is very hard to market a really strong case for the legitimacy of local government when you consider how few people vote. If you walked through Huddersfield and asked people to name their three ward councillors and explain the role of various committees I think people would struggle.

“So decentralisation to the communities might help - the issue is whether the money is spent effectively.

“If the same services that are provided change, are withdrawn or done differently people will question why.

“And it might not be until people in Lepton get a different service to someone in Mirfield that the questions will begin.

“We see the same with NHS provision, responsibility is decentralised to hospital trusts who offer different specialist services but then people get a postcode lottery of care.

“Most people rely too much on the state, if something goes wrong we expect the state to right it.

“Broadly speaking while this won’t go all the way to us becoming less reliant on the state, it may go some way towards it which is a good thing.”

Pete Toon is part of the Marsden team leading the asset transfer of the Mechanics Hall.

He said communities have to grab the opportunities: “Marsden feels passionate about this place - the cheapest and quickest thing for the council would have been to close it and sell it, but they’ve given us the chance to save it and we appreciate that.

“It was about two years ago when the council made it clear that they couldn’t keep the building that the community got involved.

“Its an integral part of the community, it’s been the home to births, marriages and community events over the years.

“It has too much history to let it go so we seized the opportunity, thinking positively was the only way.

“It’s come full circle really because the hall was funded by public subscription, down the line Kirklees became responsible for it and they have been a custodian of the building really.”

Pete says he understands the pressures Kirklees faces and appreciates the time and support the council has given the Marsden community.

“When we started two years ago there was no benchmark of how to do things, it’s a long process and I think we’ve learnt together,” he added.

Clr Nigel Patrick is chair of the Holme Valley Area Committee, one of the bodies that could take over such functions.

He said: “I do agree the ward councillors should be able to make decisions about their ward - I don’t believe the Kirklees Labour party understands rural wards, we live and work here and we do and we understand what it needs.

“It’s an interesting idea but at the moment I don’t believe Clr David Sheard when he says he’s going to hand money and responsibility over - they’ve just cut £30,000 from Area Committee funding, does that sound like the action of someone who wants more decisions at a local level?”

He said structure was key to getting it right and that more information was needed about devolution.

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