Headlines: March 27th, 2008

Local Government leaders are urging the Government to put councils at the heart of constitutional reform. Reacting to the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, the Local Government Association called on ministers to use it to devolve decision making.

The LGA wants the Bill to include a statutory duty for decision making to be shifted from the centre to the lowest possible level. It also wants the legislation to include reform of the local government finance system and to make the Audit Commission directly accountable to MPs.

The draft Bill covers a wide range of issues, including the powers of the Attorney General, controlling protests around Parliament, judicial appointments and putting the core values of the Civil Service into law. The Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, said the proposals were another step in changes that began with devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the creation of the Mayor of London’s post.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, the Vice-Chairman of the LGA, said local government was at the heart of the constitutional settlement and there was a growing cross party recognition that the solutions to some of society’s greatest challenges, including gang culture, drug abuse, obesity and long-term unemployment, would only be found locally.

“If constitutional reform is to be successful then the measures included must fully address not only the relationship between national government and Parliament but also the relationship between councils and central government,” he said. Councils wanted to see a constitutional settlement that would give power to people. “There needs to be a radical devolution of powers from central to local government and local people with a local government finance system that is fair and transparent,” Sir Jeremy added.