Headlines: May 4th, 2006

Sir Michael Lyons has issued a statement dismissing reports that the publication of the spring report of his inquiry into local government finance has been delayed by the Government. It will, he said, be published on Monday and he stressed that he alone had chosen the date.Sir Michael said the independence of his Inquiry was important to him and while he did not wish to become involved in party political debates he wished to correct misconceptions from some recent press coverage. “It is untrue to say that Government or any individual Minister has delayed my publication,” he said.

The choice of next Monday for publication had, he said, been influenced only by need to avoid the purdah around today’s local government elections and his desire to have time to refine and finalise the paper.

Sir Michael said it was important to note that the spring paper would not focus specifically on council tax or wider funding issues. The paper, ‘National Prosperity, Local Choice and Civic Engagement: A new partnership between Central and Local Government for the 21st Century’, will actually focus on the extended remit of my Inquiry. Last September the inquiry, which had originally been commissioned to makerecommendations on the reform of local government finance by the end of the year, was extended to enable Sir Michael to look at issues offunction before finalising his conclusions on funding.

He said Monday’s paper would give his latest thinking and analysis on the future role and function of local government, exploring particularly the contribution that it can make in an overall system of government maximising the well-being of its citizens. “My December 2005 report did not announce any new policy proposals. I did outline some of the options that I am considering, and which have been suggested to me by those interested in reducing the pressure on Council Tax and making it fairer. However, all options for the future funding of local government are still under consideration and I have not yet reached any conclusions. I will make my recommendations in a final report to Ministers in December 2006,” he said.

He added that to improve public confidence in government at all levels, careful attention should be given to the questions, “What do we want local government to do?” and “How should it be funded?”. “There are no quick or easy answers and it doesn’t help public understanding of the issues to suggest otherwise,” Sir Michael said.