Headlines: September 19th, 2007

A big step towards more devolution of powers from Whitehall to local councils and communities has come with the unveiling of the first wave of guidance for new Local Area Agreements. One authority that has been working on a pilot project said it hoped the announcement would be the beginning of a new relationship between central and local government.

The Communities and Local Government Secretary, Hazel Blears, said LAAs were already making a difference to local communities and new ones would go even further with local councils having freedom to give more priority and funding to the issues that were most important in their areas. Local Strategic partnerships will now begin agreeing their priorities by involving their communities. At the same time the number of targets agreed with Whitehall will be cut to a maximum of 35.

Hazel Blears told a conference organised by the Local Government Association that more local decision making was the key to better services and public satisfaction and would show what could be done by local democracy in action. “This is a watershed moment for local government. Here is an opportunity to recognise the uniqueness of every local area but also a challenge to make every town, city and village a place to be proud of,” she said.

The new guidance has been developed with local councils, Whitehall departments and other partners and is based on a dry-run of the Agreements in 17 areas. A report on the trials shows the most successful arrangements are those firmly rooted in the unique geography and culture of the local area.

Coventry City Council was one of those involved in the dry run and its Chief Executive, Stella Manzie, said, “We hope the announcement will be the beginning of a new relationship between central and local government. We want to work with Government to help improve people’s lives but we also want the freedom to make decisions locally and concentrate on the issues that matter most to our local communities and businesses.”