Headlines: July 6th, 2006

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Ruth Kelly has heralded a new era of trust between central and local government and believes that together they can usher in a new and unprecedented era of devolution. She outlined a shift from ‘earned autonomy’ to ‘presumed autonomy’ and from a process-driven to a people-driven system.As a practical step she told delegates to the Local Government Association Conference that she was setting up a group to reduce burdens on local government. The new Lifting Burdens Taskforce will be chaired by Michael Frater, Chief Executive of Telford and the Wrekin and will draw its membership from local practitioners. “It will tell us which requirements cause the most aggravation on the ground and which add the least value and then to agree packages of burden reduction with central government through the Central Local Partnership,” she said. .

The Secretary of State said this was an exciting moment for the way we govern ourselves and she set out key points she wanted to see happen. First, she wanted to see citizens who were informed, engaged and who, when ever possible, had choice over the services they use. Neighbourhoods should be able to get things done in their areas with empowered communities, able to run local community centres or facilities. Finally she added, “I want to see a set of government departments that realise that their job is to set clear frameworks for delivery and reporting, not to interfere and micro-manage.”

She urged the Conference to publish a new report,” Mapping the Local Government Performance Reporting Landscape” which shows that 80 per cent of the performance reporting by councils was information required by Whitehall and only 20 per cent was of local benefit.

Earlier the LGA set out seven elements it wants to see included in the Local Government White Paper when it is published in the autumn. They include cutting 2.5 billion pounds of red tape, more power for councils over transport, infrastructure, planning, economic development and skills, the power for local people to hold health service chief executives, police chiefs and council leaders to account and enshrining the right of local ward councillors to speak for their communities on all local issues without the current restrictions. At the same time they restated their opposition to any proposals to cut the number of councils or councillors.