Speaker’s Corner: Dacorum leads the way on ‘joined-up-thinking’
There is a new breed of politician planned for the North of England.
Powerful new mayors have been proposed by the Government that will provide the leadership required to regenerate its big cities.
The vision is to forge a new “Northern Powerhouse” that will compete with London and the South East as a hub for attracting business, wealth and enterprise.
But while there are merits to having mayors, many of the benefits and joined-up-thinking that this kind of system should produce are already coming to Dacorum, without the upheaval of an entirely new system.
Once installed, these new elected mayors will govern over the entire metropolitan areas, such as Greater Manchester, with sweeping powers over policing, public transport, strategic planning and so on.
They will take over the responsibility for the overall governance of the local police force from their current Police and Crime Commissioners.
Of course the concept of a powerful mayor is not entirely new either. Mayors of this kind are commonplace in big North American cities and London has Boris.
Hertfordshire has the population of a big city – more than a million people – and the business, innovation and economy of a big city. In that respect, we already live in a Southern Powerhouse if you like, although there are of course pockets of deprivation.
But what about our public services? Crime is generally low here, unlike some big cities, but if we look at the proposal for a ‘public service quarter’ in Hemel, we can see how your local authorities are consolidating their resources together in a way that a mayor might attempt to do if he or she was running Hertfordshire.
This proposal would see Dacorum Borough Council, the library and the police station all under one roof.
Hemel Police Station’s front desk was closed last year simply because not enough people used it to make it worthwhile.
The money spent on it was better spent on helping keep ‘Bobbies’ on the beat, where they are most needed, rather than manning a desk that no-one used.
But once you put several services under one roof the economics change and it might be that it is viable to have one front desk taking queries for a range of public services.
If a member of the public needs further help from a police officer or a housing officer or anyone else, this can be arranged at the desk too.
But in the meantime, the police officer can be carrying out other duties.
This is really the latest development of one of the founding principles of the New Town where the main public services were positioned within easy reach of each other in a ‘civic centre’.
The new building will make this concept fit for the 21st Century.
What the democratic structures are that power these changes is secondary.
Whether it is a mayor making these changes or a borough council, county council and myself with the police working together, I suspect it doesn’t really matter to most members of the public.
But what they do care about is that when they need to use public services, they get the service they expect, and that when they pay their council tax, they get the value for money they expect.