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ASHDOWN'S 'LOCAL WATCHDOGS' PROMISE NEW KIND OF GOVERNMENT

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Paddy Ashdown has called for a revolution in the delivery of government services, when he sets out Liberal Democrat...
Paddy Ashdown has called for a revolution in the delivery of government services, when he sets out Liberal Democrat plans for a national network of one-stop shops for government services, and a radical expansion of direct democracy to give people their say in government decsion.

Speaking in Eastbourne at the Association of County Councils' last-ever conference, the Liberal Democrat leader will combine a powerful commitment to reviving local democracy with a new determination to give people easier access to government services and a more direct say in decision-making.

He will position the Liberal Democrats as 'the watchdogs for local democracy in parliament' - and say that 'Liberal Democrat MPs will fight any centralising tendencies in the next government tooth and nail. Whoever has their hands on the levers of central power, Liberal Democrats will not give an inch in our mission to revive local democracy in this country'.

In return, local government must take up the challenge of reviving itself. Paddy Ashdown will mark the Liberal Democrats out as 'pioneers for a new kind of government - not big or small government, but direct government - better government and, above all, open government, with services easy to access, and decisions easy to influence'.

At the heart of Paddy Ashdown's proposals will be plans for a nationwide network of one-stop shops - government 'Help Points' which give people easy access to services from every level of government. Most people know little, and care less, about which services are provided by which level of government - all they want is easy access to government information and services, whatever level of government they come from.

Alongside this kind of 'direct service', the Liberal Democrats also want to extend 'direct democracy' in decision-making. Liberal Democrat councils have already led a revolution in opening up local councils to public involvement, decentralising power to neighbourhood forums, and directly consulting people on proposals (including spending levels and priorities). Now the party leader is calling for an even greater extension of 'people power' - through local referendums, citizens' initiatives and citizens' juries.

Mr Ashdown set out a five-point plan to put power back in the hands of local communities, make local councils more representative and give them the power to be enterprising, experimental and innovative. The Liberal Democrat 'Charter for Better Local Government' along with the full text of Mr Ashdown's speech to the ACC conference is available on request from the LGCNet newsdesk. Tel 0171 833 7324.

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