Headlines: October 12th, 2007

Senior local government officers have been challenged to take up a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ to make use of greater freedom to deliver what local people want and to make tough decisions. In a speech to council chief executives, the Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, unveiled what she called a radical re-engineering of the relationship between the state and local authorities.

The Secretary of State said changes would bring Government much closer to local people. Her speech coincided with the publication of the performance indicators for local authorities that will come into force from April next year, confirming that the number of centrally-imposed targets has been cut from 1200 to 198.

Hazel Blears told the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, meeting in Cardiff, that the Government was delivering unprecedented freedoms, financial flexibility and revenue raising powers to councils and she added, “You must now step up to the mark, embrace this new responsibility and demonstrate a strengthened approach to governing. This represents a major re-engineering of the relationship between the state and local councils bringing Government much closer to our communities.

In a direct challenge she told the chief executives that it was now down to them to use the increased freedom. “We are giving local government the space it needs to thrive – they must now make the most of this once in a generation opportunity and deliver on local peoples priorities and take the tough decisions to make a positive difference,” she said.

In addition to up to five billion pounds being transferred out of ring-fenced budgets and the new ability for councils to levy Business Rate Supplements, she said the increased freedoms meant that from next April there would be no new mandatory targets on councils, other than the 17 statutory targets for educational attainment and early years. The Government would not proscribe any of the goals in Local Area Agreements, though it would aim to agree them with local partners as part of the negotiation and councils would be required to involve local communities in the process.