Headlines: December 5th, 2007

People in twelve more areas of England are to be given a direct say in how their council spends some of its money. The new areas getting access to a so-called community kitty will join the existing ten pilot schemes, which the Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, believes have heralded a shift in power.

The new areas are Thanet, Wiltshire, Dartford, Sefton, Cornwall, Lancaster, Mansfield, Suffolk, Leicester, Wirral, Reigate & Banstead and Buckinghamshire. In each case the councils involved have volunteered to work with local people so they can take decisions on the priorities for spending a part of the authority’s budget.

Ms Blears said the scheme was a radical way of working that would revive local democracy and she now wants all local authorities to be involved within five years. “Local people know their area better than anyone and want a direct say over how to tackle the issues that matter most to them from improving playgrounds, to dealing with litter, better standards of housing or taking action against anti-social behaviour,” she said.

The Secretary of State said too few people felt able to make a difference where they lived and giving them more power over decisions that affected them was a practical way to get people involved with local democracy. She urged councils to join in. “There are some in local government who believe giving local people a say is a threat to their legitimacy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Listening to the concerns and priorities of the people who use local services can only strengthen our local democracy,” she added.

The Government believes the new areas will not only expand and accelerate the move towards participatory budgeting but will also contribute to central and local government efforts to deliver the vision of devolution to the doorstep.