Headlines: March 5th, 1998

Tony Blair has set the agenda for change in local government in a pamphlet published by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a left of centre think tank. Under the title Leading the Way: A new vision for local government he spells out his vision for reform.His criticisms of the current situation include: councils without a clear sense of direction; fragmentation of responsibilities affecting the services people receive; failure to work in collaboration with local companies, voluntary bodies, grant maintained schools, other councils and NHS Trusts and failure to explain council tax rises.

His vision portrays radical change. The executive and representative roles would be separated. There would be directly elected mayors to develop strong and clear local leadership, the committee structure would be completely overhauled and the role of backbench counsellors strengthened. There would be changes in consulting people to encourage greater participation in the local democratic process, this would involve citizens juries, referendums on controversial decisions and reform of voting methods including postal ballots. New powers would be given to councils to encourage local partnerships and give successful councils the freedom to develop new initiatives to address local concerns.

Tony Blair said: “If you accept this challenge, you will not find us wanting. You can look forward to an enhanced role and new powers. Your contribution will be recognised. Your status enhanced. If you are unwilling or unable to work to the modern agenda then the Government will have to look to other partners to take on your role”

Spelling out his message in clear terms he went on to say: “The Government will not hesitate to intervene directly to secure improvements where services fall below acceptable standards. And, if necessary, it will look to other authorities and agencies to take on duties where an authority is manifestly incapable of providing an effective service and unwilling to take the action necessary to improve its performance.”