MPs back increased powers for local government in England

May 20, 2009 at 9:08 pm Leave a comment

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A committee of MPs has reported that local government in England should be given more control.

“The power to govern in England remains too heavily centralised to be efficient or effective,” according to a report from the Communities and Local Government Committee.

“We accept it would not be easy to make a significant shift of power from the centre to local government,” the committee said.

“History is a powerful guide of contemporary practice and there is no doubt people in Britain have become used to ‘the government’ taking the blame for anything that goes wrong.

“Herein lies a clue, though, that a successful decentralisation of power might make the business of central government easier and more likely to deliver successful outcomes.

“The debate about the balance of power between central and local government can appear rather abstract.

“However, we are convinced that the balance of power matters.

“It matters because at its heart is the challenge of improving the lives of local people and local communities, and determining where the decisions that affect them directly should be made.”

The committee said that local government should be given more power on a permanent basis, allowing it to achieve “the autonomy it requires to deliver the benefits of local solutions to local people and local communities.”

“In so doing, we believe, the groundwork will also be laid for a reinvigorated local democracy that will, in time, also help to regenerate the national political arena.

“We are under no illusions: as we have seen, the history of reports such as these is not encouraging.

“But perhaps now is the time for the moment to be seized.

“Building on the small shifts of recent years, central government should now be more radical, and local government more ambitious for itself and the people of its locality.

“The benefits both to local public services and to democracy itself could be immeasurable.”

The report calls for a new Lords and Commons Joint Committee to scrutinise Government compliance with this new constitutional settlement and a “culture change” in central government.

“Serious consideration should be given to a supplementary local income tax, to be introduced alongside council tax and with a corresponding reduction in central taxation.

“Prompt action should also be taken to return business rates to local authority control, and to end central government capping of council tax increases,” the committee said.

Dr Phyllis Starkey, chair of the committee said:

“Central government must take radical steps to tilt the balance of power towards localities, and local government must become more ambitious.

“Much must be done to counter the post-war tendency of governments of all parties to expand their powers at the expense of local government.

“Whilst we fully accept that the government should set strong national strategic goals, it should also pay much greater heed to the benefits of local autonomy.

“The government recognised these benefits when it signed up to the European Charter of Local Self-Government so now it and Parliament should act to enshrine these principles in UK law.

“Local authorities clearly know their communities better than Whitehall does, particularly for instance when it comes to local health inequalities, policing needs or tackling the local impact of the economic recession.

“Given the extent to which communities differ, local authorities should have the flexibility – whilst respecting reasonable national minimum standards – to vary their priorities to better reflect local aspirations.

“This flexibility should include the ability to raise more of their own money – reducing central taxation if necessary to ensure that the overall tax burden does not increase.”

Click here to read the report.

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