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COMMUNITY DECISION-MAKING NOW CLOSER TO HOME

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It's official - community decision-making doesn't stop at the town hall. ...
It's official - community decision-making doesn't stop at the town hall.

Three quarters of local authorities now have area committees or forums in

place to give local people a say on matters closer to home, new research

from the Local Government Association shows.

And the association warns that any government moves to bolster neighbourhood

governance must build on the success of existing arrangements rather than

replacing them with imposed solutions.

The LGA research also found that 26 per cent of councils have area

committees with powers to make decisions on local matters. Of these, 83 per

cent said they had successfully involved local people and 84 per cent

believed they have helped to improve the effectiveness of decision-making in

their area.

The interim research findings, which will be presented by LGA chief

executive Brian Briscoe at the third in the association's series of

Smith Square Debates this evening(1), are taken from an

LGA research project on devolution beyond the town hall due to be published

in July.

At the event, Sir Brian will say: 'Whatever their feelings for their town,

city or county, most people care most about their immediate neighbourhood

and, rightly, expect more of a say in what happens in it.

'The LGA believes revitalising community participation is not an optional

extra for the future of local government, but an essential part of the

agenda. We are calling for the devolution of power from Whitehall to local

communities - but we are equally clear that devolution should not stop at

the town hall.

'The government recently trailed the idea of a new tier of governance at

neighbourhood level(2). It would be foolish to progress further along this

path without evaluating the strengths of what already exists in the form of

parish, town and community councils and bodies such as area committees.

'Our research shows that three quarters of councils already have area-based

arrangements in place for engaging communities in local decision-making,

many with devolved powers to shape the face of their local area. But our

research also shows that one size doesn't fit all, and structures are less

important than community buy-in and the flexibility to respond to local

needs.

'If the government is serious about devolving power to town halls and

beyond, it must build on the pioneering work local authorities are doing in

their own communities. Imposing a centralist blueprint could stifle local

democratic arrangements rather than helping them to thrive.'

NOTES

1. The full programme for the debate on Thursday 17 June is:

How can we shape the future of citizen participation? Which political

structures best engage people in governing their local communities?

5.30pm: Registration, tea & coffee

6.00pm - 7.30 pm: Debate chaired by Jeremy Beecham, LGA chair

Speakers: Dan Corry, executive director, New Local Government Network; Ben

Page, director, MORI Local Government Research Unit; Brian Briscoe,

chief executive, Local Government Association

7.30pm: Drinks reception

Direct elections to NHS foundation trusts and police authorities have been

proposed as a way of strengthening local accountability and putting

communities in control of public services. But will the creation of

single-purpose elected bodies lead to a fragmentation of local services? Or

is this just a knee-jerk reaction by politicians who fear losing their local

monopoly? And do local people want to participate more anyway?

2. Further information on this year's programme of Smith Square debates is

available at www.lga.gov.uk.

3. The idea of introducing a neighbourhood tier of governance was included

in the Cabinet Office's cross-governmental Strategic Audit, published

earlier this year, and is mentioned in Labour's Big Conversation document.

4. The LGA is undertaking a research project to look at area committees and

area forums. The research was carried out between February and May 2004 by

the LGA research team. The full research report will be published in late

July 2004. For the purpose of the research area committees are defined as

having delegated executive functions and area forums are defined as

consultative bodies.

5. This year's Smith Square Debates focus on issues explored in the LGA

paper 'Independence, opportunity, trust', launched in April 2004, which

seeks to influence political parties' thinking in the run up to the next

general election. It sets out local government's vision for the future and

challenges the next government to help us deliver these ambitions

successfully.

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