We often criticise our local authorities – sometimes deservedly – for their inability to deal with local issues in a robust enough way.
One particular frustration is the way parish and town council recommendations on contentious planning matters are often overruled by the planning authority (Wealden or Lewes district councils.)
But perhaps the greatest problem is the way they are hamstrung by government imposed limitations on their powers.
It’s interesting to see the level of power and responsibility enjoyed by the French ‘Maires’ – who always seem to win healthy respect in their communities.
As head of the town or village, the French mayor has a wide-reaching role.
He or she is able to establish and manage the local budget, set local taxes, define and carry out local economic development projects and make decisions relating to local education, for example increasing or reducing class sizes.
They also manage community services such as transport, housing sports, hygiene, health and social welfare as well as cultural activities.
Of particular interest to us is the way they can approve (or not) purchase and sales of community property, protect and promote local heritage and culture (in all fairness we can do that) and manage their own employees (yes, we do that too.)
These Maires are also representatives of the state and officers of judicial police. As such they publish national laws and regulations, organise elections, maintain public order, protect the safety and security of local residents (yes, we’d appreciate that please) maintain the local census and preside over civic wedding ceremonies.
Of course a state Prefet ensures decisions taken are in line with Le Code General des Collectivites Territoriales and accounts are also scrutinised.
But how much happier would we be if we knew a local mayor or chair was able to listen to us and take action over the things that irritate, worry or scare us – such as local anti-social behaviour, parking, planning consents, policing, education and health?
If we knew they had a line in to the authorities that make decisions? And those authorities took note?
Does the French system work? Take a superficial look at their towns and villages and you will see a huge degree of civic pride, from carefully tended roundabouts to conveniently placed road crossings; from joyful floral displays to immaculate play areas for children and parks; from litter-free highways and country roads to pristine public buildings.
Is the grass really greener? I’d be interested to hear from other readers who perhaps can counter this view.