Book News: June 21st, 2001

By Gerry StokerThis report from the New Local Government Network plots a new course between utopian demands for autonomous local government and the centralisation that has characterised the policies of UK national governments towards local government finance since the 1970s. It proposes an expansion in the freedom and flexibility of options open to councils to fund local services and needs, identifying a variety of measures to enable greater local discretion. Some of these are already in place – e.g. congestion charging and workplace car parking taxes – but others, such as lane rental and tourist taxes, would be novel to the UK.

The report also suggests more general flexibility over charging for services while protecting against unfair fees and costs; and outlines how greater discretion could be given over the funding of capital projects. Gerry Professor Stoker makes it clear that greater freedom would in every instance come with fresh forms of accountability so that local stakeholders and the public more generally are involved in the decision-making process.

As the NLGN report reveals, the reform of local government finance goes to the heart of key governance questions. The UK cannot sustain a system where 96% of tax is raised through central government and expect to establish local and regional political systems of any substantial political salience. Effective devolution is necessary for public services to meet local conditions.

‘Money Talks: Creating a dialogue between taxpayers and local government’ available from Central Books, price 13. pounds 25p E-mail: