A month ago Rob Callister, who is a commissioner in Onchan, posted on a local internet site a suggestion about reducing the number of local authorities on the island from 24 to 13 by amalgamating the rural authorities into six groupings:
Bride, Jurby and Andreas
Ballaugh and Michael
German and Patrick
Maughold, Lonan and Laxey
Braddan, Marown and Santon
Rushen, Arbory and Malew.
Castletown, Douglas, Onchan, Peel, Port Erin, Port St Mary and Ramsey would remain as they were.
I had originally supported the proposal to go for five authorities – North, South, East, West and Douglas – but I think Rob’s suggestion has merit and deserves serious consideration because it would give some benefits of the economy of scale without being too radical.
I think that the rural authorities are more likely to accept a ‘grouping of equals’ than amalgamations which include the larger towns, as these may be seen as ‘take-overs’. They are also more likely to retain their ‘rural’ feel. It also means that the workloads of the commissioners, who are, to all intents and purposes, volunteers working in their spare time, should not be too onerous.
Back on my soap-box, I would still argue that the present domestic rating system is unfair because it does not take into account a person’s ability to pay. It should be replaced by a fairer system, possibly a local income tax. This will be particularly important if central government is going to delegate responsibility for providing more and more services to local authorities, passing the cost from the taxpayer to the ratepayer. Local authorities have an important role to play, but they must be properly – and fairly – funded.