The local council sphere of influence is under threat from two directions and if proposed measures are accepted, power will move to other bodies, some of which are unelected. Sir Jeremy Beecham, Chair of the Local Government Association has labeled proposals for regional government and planning, currently being debated in the House of Lords, as “old centralism managed by a regional office”. Department of Health proposals for partly elected Boards of Governors to run the new foundation hospitals would add to the erosion of influence.The Planning and compulsory Purchase Bill proposes that planning powers should be taken from county councils and given to regional planning bodies. The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill will allow for referendums to discover whether people want a directly elected assemble in their region. For those regions that do not opt for an elected regional assembly, control of planning will be removed from the directly elected county councils and handed to appointed regional bodies.
The proposals for foundation hospitals would create an electorate of people who live near the hospital or have used it in the last three years. Boards would also include staff and representatives of partner organizations, but there would be no representatives from the local councils in the area. The public and patients would form the majority on the Board.
These developments on the planning and health fronts need to be seen in the context of the wider picture of local government where local strategic partnerships are resulting in a shift of power away from councils. See Publicnet 24th February 2003.