Headlines: February 19th, 2009

A think tank has given a broad welcome to Conservative proposals for the future of local government. Meanwhile parish and town councils have said they want to explore what their role may be in the plans and environmental campaigners have questioned the idea of financial incentives to councils for housing developments.

The Local Government Information Unit said the party’s Green Paper was a move in the right direction. Its chief executive, Andy Sawford, said, “It’s great to see David Cameron using the same language as us on the need for a ‘fundamental shift’ in the balance of power.”

On plans to allow residents of big cities to have referendum votes on elected mayors, the LGiU said it was right that local communities should have the choice. “We also agree with David Cameron that there is too much unaccountable and costly bureaucracy in our government. The challenge is to make sure that as old structures are scrapped we can avoid chucking the baby out with the bathwater,” Mr. Sawford added. Plans to scrap Comprehensive Area Assessments, however, needed more scrutiny, he said and added, “We need to look at this further to avoid history repeating itself, of political parties talking localist in opposition and acting centralist when they are in power.”

The National Association of Local Councils also welcomed many of the principles underlying the Conservative plans. The chairman, Councillor Michael Chater said they would be exploring the ideas with the party, particularly the critical role that the current 8,500 parish and town councils and their 80,000 elected members could play. “Only by putting greater influence and responsibility in the hands of our citizens and communities will their faith be restored in the political process and local public service delivery,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England said it was concerned about plans in the Green Paper to offer financial incentives to local authorities for housing development. The CPRE said it was vitally important that councils were not effectively offered bribes for development and that proper planning remained sacrosanct.