The appointment of David Miliband as Minister for Communities and Local Government with a seat in the Cabinet has been welcomed by the Local Government Association. A spokesperson for the Association told Publicnet that the appointment is a clear indication that local government is being pushed up the agenda.The Association believes that there is now a real opportunity to press home the case for a return of power to local people. This means not just devolving decision making from Whitehall to the town halls through such developments as local area agreements, but involving people at the community level. This can be achieved through the existing structure of local government where councils will continue to develop their local leadership role. The government’s view of the importance of communities is made clear in the title of the new Minister’s post.
The New Local Government Network, an independent think-tank, has also called for a new localism with decision making taken down to community level, but with major changes in the structure. Professor Gerry Stoker, a co-founder of NLGN, believes that local government is not currently equipped to deliver and he argues for a new system that is simultaneously more strategic and more local. His vision includes ‘super-sizing’ of cities, towns and counties. This might involve a ‘super-sized’ City of Manchester bringing in Tameside, Trafford, Salford and Stockport, as well as the existing city. A similar model could be applied to London, dividing the capital into four or five groupings of London boroughs. New groupings would create authorities that could operate on a more strategic scale.