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ANALYSIS - NEIGHBOURHOOD CONCEPT GIVES LOCALS THE WHIP HAND

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Beneath the glut of paperwork that emerged from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister this week is a confluence o...
Beneath the glut of paperwork that emerged from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister this week is a confluence of intriguing strands, writes Kerry Lorimer.

At its core lies an unshakeable commitment to the concept of neighbourhoods, tipped as a key axis in the Labour manifesto. The government is keen to see the development of the neighbourhood charter, a menu of quality-of-life expectations over which councils can be taken to task by local people. The right to trigger action when services fail to come up to scratch, combined with devolved budgets and model by-laws, will give the charter teeth.

But ministers are at pains to stress the new arrangements will not bypass or take powers away from local government. It will be up to councils to decide, for example, whether funding should be devolved to area committees or individual members.

That reassurance is welcomed by the Local Government Association, which says it is up to councils to use their democratic legitimacy to lead partnerships of key players in their areas.

'It is vital this leadership role for councils is given the recognition, freedom, power and resources it needs,' says LGA chair Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart (Con).

Indeed, the flipside of enhanced neighbourhood arrangements is a more clearly defined role for councils as community leaders - a message resonant with recent ministerial pronouncements.

While council leaders take a pivotal role in local area agreements springing up across the country, backbench members could find themselves leading a neighbourhood body, acting as 'mini-mayors' with responsibility for a devolved community fund to solve local problems.

Directly elected mayors, boosted in clout, are another critical part of the government's vision.

The government hopes a more powerful mayoralty, which would make whole councils more influential, would win over at least some major cities. It is being vague about what these powers might be but has promised to draw up ideas.

Anna Randle, head of policy at the New Local Government Network, believes the government is taking heed of the 'effective and visible leadership' of the existing elected mayors. 'We hope councils will now take the opportunity to reconsider the difference an elected mayor might make for them and their areas, particularly the core cities,' she says.

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