Headlines: May 20th, 2009

A group of MPs is calling on the Government to prove its ‘localist credentials’ so communities can reap the benefits of more power being moved to local authorities. The Commons Select Committee on Communities and Local Government says cultural change across central government, closer Parliamentary scrutiny of national ministries and reform of local authority finance are all needed.

In their latest report, ‘The Balance of Power: Central and Local Government’, the MPs look at why reform is essential to ensure English councils gain enough real autonomy to shape their communities and unlock the full potential of local innovation. The committee chair, Dr Phyllis Starkey, said: “We are still a long way from an equitable and healthy balance of power between central and local government in this country. Central government must take radical steps to tilt the balance of power towards localities, and local government must become more ambitious.”

The MPs call for cultural change at ministerial level, across the Civil Service and in Parliament to set a higher threshold before intervention in local issues. They want local authorities to be more assertive and to show they have the determination and vision to improve lives in their communities. In another key recommendation the committee says authorities should be given the power to assimilate local policing, health and healthcare services into their strategic vision and they call for significant financial reform so local government can raise more of its own money. They suggest serious consideration is given to a supplementary local income tax alongside council tax with a corresponding reduction in central taxation.

The Government, the MPs say, should prove its localist credentials through constitutional legislation, placing the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government on a statutory footing. A new joint committee of the Commons and House of Lords would then scrutinise the way central departments comply with this settlement.