Headlines: September 9th, 2004

In a bold manifesto local government leaders have promised that that no council will be rated ‘poor’ or ‘weak’ by 2008 and they are calling on the government and other political parties unequivocally to back radical devolution of power to local councils. The Local Government Association paper, ‘Independence, opportunity, trust: a manifesto for local communities’, is designed to kick-start a wide-ranging review of the scope and role of local government in the UK.It has been produced following a series of debates and consultation. It sets out a vision of self-governing communities led by councils and free from Whitehall interference. The LGA claims Britain is the most centralised country in the developed world. The paper also calls for a government review of key public services and national agencies, so they can be transferred to local democratic control where possible. Central government control, it says, should be slashed to a small number of agreed nationally monitored targets.

The document sets out ten key steps it believes central and local government need to take. In addition to the devolution of power through councils to local people, the transfer of key services to local control and a streamlining of inspection services, it wants reform of local taxation and stronger local political leadership. There should be, it says, an equal partnership between central and local government with real power brought closer to the people. Services should be efficiently provided and tailored to individual and local needs to meet priorities agreed with local people.

Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of the LGA, said they had pledged to ensure all councils carry on improving and none are rated as poor or weak in three years’ time. But central government’s obsession with national targets, ring-fenced budgets and unaccountable quangos, he said, was stifling further progress in improving local services and efficiency.