Headlines: March 15th, 2004

The local democracy think tank the Local Government Information Unit has criticised the Government’s plans to use its council tax capping powers. It says the intention to name those councils that will be capped has been stated repeatedly by ministers recently, and it expects a formal announcement this week following the weekends Labour Party Spring Conference in Manchester.The LGIU’s Chief Executive, Denis Reed said capping undermined the concept of local democracy and although its use was no longer universal, it was as crude as ever. He accused ministers of playing politics with peoples’ jobs and services to score points at local government’s expense and said this was being done in spite of recent findings by the Audit Commission that showed central government policy was the chief cause of council tax rises.

Mr. Reed said if capping did go ahead the Government needed to answer some important questions. Would ministers, for instance, be as forthcoming in telling the councils that were being capped, exactly what local services they should cut. He also questioned where capping would leave the idea of ‘active citizenship’ if ministers rather than local electors held councillors to account? Finally he asked what was the meaning of the rhetoric on ‘new localism’ when even councils that were rated highly could not set their own budget priorities without being overruled from the centre?

He pledged LGIU support for local authorities in the campaign against capping. “It is important for those who rely on local services, and the principle of local democracy, for ministers to end the blame game and get on with the job of reforming local government finance, ” he said.