Headlines: July 13th, 2007



Local authority leaders are calling for councils to be given powers over taxation and economic development as a way to boost the prosperity of their areas. The Local Government Association is making the case for the extra powers as the Treasury prepares to publish its Sub National Review. It wants to see councils given powers over taxation, transport, infrastructure, planning, economic development and skills to promote economic growth and to put an end to big towns and cities being ‘clients’ of central government.

It is urging the devolution of powers and funding for councils or partnerships of councils so they can find local solutions to the transport, housing and planning, welfare and skills and economic development needs of their own areas. This, it believes, would recognise the key role of councils in providing the conditions for economic prosperity and growth. It also wants to see decisions made by councils working with their partners at town, city or county level and not in line with a centrally imposed model. Alongside this it wants Regional Development Agencies and Regional Planning Bodies to be genuinely strategic and for regional economic, planning and housing strategies to be merged.

The LGA Chairman, Sir Simon Milton, said the impending review was a real opportunity for Ministers to hand down powers from Whitehall. “Central government keeps town and cities as clients. It is time to set them free. Decisions on transport, planning, regeneration and employment must be devolved to the level where people actually live their lives, raise their families and earn their living,” he said.

In support of its case the LGA has pointed out that in spite of the country’s unprecedented growth and stability, Britain’s productivity is below the average of G7 countries, and that no English cities outside London are among Europe’s wealthiest thirty urban centres. Sir Simon added, “England’s cities and shires are ambitious to take real local ownership of their economic destiny. Each place, city, county, town is different. All have their own unique challenges.”

Meanwhile the New Local Government Network has called for councils to be given a bigger role in house building. Its director, Chris Leslie, said, “Local authorities should play a key role in this process, not only by releasing dormant land, but actively in house building and contracting.” He argued that councils should be given new financial tools and incentives and called for the Comprehensive Spending Review to revise rules on borrowing so councils could be catalysts for new home building.