Councils call for more power

Whitehall’s control over local government has denied local choice, eroded local democracy and wasted public money, a new report warns today.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has called for central government to let go of its hold over councils in England and allow them to raise funds for local priorities in what it describes as an “audacious and deep-seated reform”.

In a new report, it calls for local government to be given power over transport, economic development and skills, to allow them to develop a sense of local identity, and take on a new duty to encourage social, economic and environmental well-being in their area.

Councils would agree to deliver services across these areas to a national standard, in return for freedom to set their own local targets, the association says – and in doing so save the billions of pounds currently spent on Whitehall-imposed regulation.

The LGA also calls for councils to take back control over the business rates, which are currently collected centrally and then dispersed evenly across the country.

“The government’s ambition to modernise public services cannot be doubted. But, the unique degree of central control exerted in England over public services and local government has denied local choice and eroded local democracy itself,” the report says.

It warns that improving local accountability is vital to this reform process, and calls for local people to have new powers to hold NHS chiefs, police constables and council leaders to account, and for more responsibility to be devolved to parish councils.

The report’s recommendations are very similar to those proposed by Michael Lyons in his latest review of local government, published earlier this month. He called for a “redefining” of the relationship between local and central government.

“It is time for Whitehall to decentralise, devolve and deregulate to set people free of bureaucracy and improve the lives of millions of people,” said LGA chairman Sandy Bruce-Lockhart said today.

“Local government itself could not be in better shape for this challenge. The Treasury has reported that councils lead the public sector in efficiency gains, making £2.6 million of savings a day.

“Not only have we got our houses in order, but we in local government also have a vision, a compelling argument which seeks to champion the cause of local people, to make a difference to their lives and respond to their needs, hopes and ambitions.”