Headlines: May 26th, 2010

Local authority leaders have welcomed new plans to give more power to councils and neighbourhoods. The Local Government Association said what was needed was nothing short of wholesale reform and a think-tank saw the plans as an historic move away from decades of centralisation.

The coalition’s plans, revealed in the Queen’s Speech include a Decentralisation and Localism Bill which would give more powers over housing and planning decisions to councils and mark the start of a review of local government finance. The measures will directly affect authorities in England and Wales but the government is not ruling out implications for Scotland because of what it called the “wide scope” of the Bill.

Dame Margaret Eaton, the Chairman of the Local Government Association, said nothing less than wholesale reform was needed to give power to locally-elected people who were closest to the residents they served. “We will work with the Government to shape the details,” she said and added: “Greater devolution would save billions, help maintain front line services and give local people more say over what happens where they live. Councils, she went on, had long been calling for ‘a bonfire of the bureaucracy.’

The Local Government Information Unit also welcomed news of the Bill. Its Chief Executive, Andy Sawford, said the legislation marked an historic break from decades of centralisation.”In one swoop Eric Pickles and his team will restore important powers and purpose to local authorities and local people to shape their communities,” he said.

Mr. Sawford warned that localism would be tough in the current financial climate, but after calling for a new balance of power between Whitehall and Town Halls, local government must welcome the Bill and show that it was up to the challenge.