Headlines: April 1st, 2008

Top tier local authorities are set to be given new duties as part of a package of measures to revive some of England’s most deprived areas. Government ministers have begun a consultation on proposals which they say will lay the foundations for sweeping reform.

The plans follow the Sub-National Review of Economic Development and Regeneration, which was published last summer and which envisaged streamlined regional government with the phasing out of Regional Assemblies from 2010. Under the proposed changes to the law, top tier councils would have a new duty to assess local economic conditions, including employment, skill levels and the infrastructure needed to support sustainable economic growth.

The councils and their Regional Development Agencies would then use this assessment as the basis of regional strategies for the future of housing, skills, transport and regeneration. RDAs and their partners will also advise the Government on how funding which is already allocated to regions for housing and regeneration, skills, transport and economic development can best be joined up.

The planned legislation would also build on those areas where councils are developing Multi-Area Agreements. RDAs would be answerable to new regional forums made up of local authority leaders withy arrangenments for the forums being agreed locally. Ministers have already begun discussions with Commons authorities on the formation of regional select committees.

The Local Government Minister, John Healey, said, “Councils are best placed to know the challenges that their local communities face and learn from their economic successes. In their reformed role, Regional Development Agencies will work closely with councils and business to develop a vision for the future of their areas.” The reforms, he added, would lay the foundations of a renaissance in England’s deprived areas.