Book News: January 20th, 2005

By Dan Corry and Ian ParkerThis report from the New Local Government Network sets out a manifesto on a range of issues currently impacting upon local government. It focuses on the themes of transforming public services, revitalising local political leadership, empowering local communities and New Localism. It argues that a window of opportunity exists to make a lasting difference to the running of Britain’s localities and communities – and by extension the country as a whole. It questions how long that window will remain open and urges that local government modernisation should carry on at a pace.

The report makes a case for a ‘localism test’ to be introduced, with any new central initiative. Proposals for change should first go through a cabinet sub-committee to test if it could be delivered in a more devolved way. It proposes that a ‘Department of Devolved Governance’ be created, encompassing the existing brief of the ODPM but taking in the ‘national’ offices of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This new department would also co-ordinate the ‘locality engagement’ of all others in Whitehall.

The report also makes a plea for a ‘Freedoms and Flexibilities’ to be established involving all councils. This would feature the removal of ring-fenced funding, the ability to align budgets and agendas with local partners, and increased scrutiny powers over other services. In addition, a small number of radical pilots – ‘Free Cities’ – should be created with additional powers, for example to appoint health or police commissioners.

The Modernisers’ Tale: why modernisation in local government must continue, is published by NLGN and is available from York Publishing Services at 11.25 pounds. Tel: 01904 431213. Fax: 01904 430868. E-mail: