As a relative newcomer to the world of local government, I am still of the perhaps romantic view that, as a councillor, I would have the ability to influence change in, and delivery of, services. So, when I see any proposal which appears to take responsibility away from local government, I am wary about what happens next.
'Academies for all' does worry me. Yes, I accept that some Local Education Authorities need a good kick up the backside, but they are at least democratically accountable. What hasn't become clear to me is how a school, newly independent from 'the Council', will be dealt with if it fails. Who will be accountable, what is the penalty for failure? And, most importantly of all, who will make the decision to intervene?
You see, as a taxpayer, I fund the education system, and I want my money to be spent wisely. And whilst I don't have children of my own (I can't take any credit for Sally and Jamie), my community relies on our schools to produce well-rounded, well-educated young people. If none of my elected representatives is responsible for anything other than ensuring that the school gets its regular funding cheque, what means do I have of conveying an opinion?
I could, I suppose, become a school governor. However, that option isn't open to most people, and would make me part of the democratic deficit, not necessarily part of any accountability solution.
I'm not opposed to the concept of local empowerment. In rural areas like mine in mid-Suffolk, giving villages more influence over how their schools are run might act to reinvigorate their sense of civic society, helping to reverse the slow decline in local services that threatens their future. However, I strongly believe that, where public money is spent, there must be a way to allow proper scrutiny, the rewarding of success and the penalising of failure.
As a Liberal Democrat, how the Coalition deal with questions of accountability and democratic engagement will provide an indicator of the future prospects for the administration. I shall watch the squaring of this particular circle with interest...