Headlines: April 8th, 2004

The authors of a new study are warning that regional government in England could end up regulating local councils as much as Whitehall does and they are urging councils to make sure they get the best deal for local people in areas where elected regional assemblies are given the go-ahead following referendums scheduled for the autumn.The report, commissioned by the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network has been published as the government prepares its draft bill on elected regional assemblies.

The report also warns that where regional assemblies are imposed on existing structures of local governance they will exacerbate current problems in decision-making and accountability and that they could lead to functions moving upward from the local to the regional level.

The authors are calling on local government to make its mark on the legislation now being prepared by stating their objectives for the relationship between the assemblies and local councils. They should also make plain their views on the role of local government in regional assembly decision-making and put forward their ideas for correcting existing shortcomings in regional governance.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, the LGA chairman, said now was the time for local councils to set out their stalls and, if assemblies were given the go ahead, the Association would be working to ensure their powers would be cascaded down from Whitehall and not taken away from local government.

Local councils, he said, had a unique understanding of local needs and it was important to ensure this was not eroded. Councils had to remain in the front line of delivering real democratic accountability in the regions. His views were echoed by County Councils Network chairman Nick Skellett who said the report was timely as the government was convening a series of hearings in the North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humber to discuss the remit of any elected regional assemblies.