Headlines: March 6th, 2008

Plans have been unveiled fora new White Paper, which the Government says will be focused on empowering citizens. The Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, said the plans would unlock local talent and give people a real say in improving local services. Local Government leaders responded by saying the best way to reinvigorate local democracy was to start with councils and they called again for a fresh look at their funding.

Ms Blears told a regeneration conference that while local government was working much better than in previous years a new survey had found that six out of ten people did not feel they had an adequate say on how council services were run and ninety per cent felt the accountability of councils could be improved. The White Paper, she said, would aim, to reverse this. It is expected to be published in the summer.

She added, “Today marks the start of a national debate and I want to hear from the Great British public about what more we can do to reinvigorate the grass roots of local democracy,to encourage active citizenship, and to enable people to connect with their local leaders.

We need a little less social engineering, and a lot more social enterprise, and I look forward to hearing thoughts on how we get there.” Traditional civic institutions, she said, would need to be more responsive and relevant and it was important to encourage strong and visible local leadership.

In response, Sir Simon Milton, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said the reinvigoration of democracy should begin with councils. “Councillors are at the coal-face, working directly with local people every day to make their lives better,” he said.

It was time to look again at how councils were funded. “The best way to get local people involved with and enthused in the work of their council is to allow councils genuine freedom over how much money they can raise for local services.”