Headlines: May 16th, 2008

Following the announcement of plans to give people more influence over the decisions taken by local councils, the Government is facing a call for a ‘fundamental shift in power’. The Chief Executive of the Local Government Information Unit, Andy Sawford, said the proposed empowerment white paper was an opportunity for real change for local government and for communities.

Mr. Sawford told the LGiU’s ‘Power to the people’ conference, which was attended by the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Hazel Blears, that there would be an opportunity to trace the close relationship between empowerment, accountability and efficiency. He said, though, that this would require a shift in power.

“Our country is too centralised and it is hurting us. It is causing our public services to fall short and it is undermining our democracy. That’s why we welcome the empowerment agenda and the direction of travel in Whitehall,” he told delegates.

Hazel Blears told the conference that local government had come of age and was confident about what it could deliver and ambitious for the people it served. She added, “But there is unfinished business. Too few people feel they can influence decisions in their local areas.”

Earlier she had set out more details of the Community Empowerment Bill and said it would contain three new rights. There would be a right for people to ask for a stronger say on spending decisions that affected them or their communities; a right to ensure councils considered the sale or transfer of under-used properties, land or parks to local community groups, co-ops and social enterprises and a right to force a debate on specific local issues onto a council agenda.