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Postcode lotteries are good for local people ...
Postcode lotteries are good for local people

Don't scrap councils and don't cut councillor numbers

The boldest report ever published by the Local Government Association today set out a radical new vision for how power should be removed from Whitehall and put into the hands of local people, voluntary organisations and local councils.

The report, Closer to People and Places, backed by the leaders of all the political parties in local government, calls for a series of sweeping changes to local government and for a 'clamour for change' by local people to help make this happen.

The report is available here.

Key proposals in the report include:

* Slashing 1,000 targets to save taxpayers£2.5bn

* Giving councils extra powers including over transport, infrastructure, planning, economic development and skills

* A return of the local business rates with an inflation safeguard so they have freedom in raising revenue and setting their budgets

* The power for local people to hold NHS chief executives, police chiefs and council leaders to account if they consistently perform poorly

* Dedicated budgets for ward councillors to spend on local projects

* Greater 'postcode choice'

* Opposition to any proposals by central government to cut the number of councils or councillors

Local authorities are responsible for a budget of£85bn, have 2.2m employees and 20,000 elected councillors and the report sets out how the money and the people could be given more freedom to improve the lives of local people without interference from Whitehall.

Local Government Association chairman Sandy Bruce-Lockhart said:

'Our objectives are to improve public services, widening both access and choice, and offering opportunity for all; to ensure value for money making better use of the public's taxes; and to create attractive, vibrant, prosperous, safe and friendly places where people are proud to live.

'There is, however, a further challenge. We see an erosion of democracy, a crisis of trust, a cynicism with politicians and with the ability of seemingly unreachable governance to deliver solutions. We must give people back power and influence over their lives, their local services, and the future of the places where they live.

'Of all the major democracies and economies of the world, England is unique in the degree of central control exerted over public services and local government. This has wasted the public's money. It has sapped the energy, enterprise and innovation of front line staff. It has denied local choice, and eroded local democracy itself.

'It is time for Whitehall to decentralise, devolve and deregulate to set people free of bureaucracy and improve the lives of millions of people.

'Local government itself could not be in better shape for this challenge. The Treasury has reported that councils lead the public sector in efficiency gains, making£2.6m of savings a day. The Audit Commission reports that seven out of ten of the biggest local authorities are improving well or strongly.

'Not only have we got our houses in order, but we in local government also have a vision, a compelling argument which seeks to champion the cause of local people, to make a difference to their lives and respond to their needs, hopes and ambitions. Today, we initiate a public debate across England about this vision and create a clamour for change.

'We are also very clear that for this renaissance in local government to come about, we must set tough goals for our own sector. Local authorities must show that they do not want greater devolution from Westminster just for its own sake. They must persuade their communities that decentralisation is about allowing them to realise better the ambitions of the people who live and work there, devolve power further beyond the town hall and deliver ever more value for money. The quid pro quo also means that council leaders must accept that the buck stops with them when things go wrong.

'The time has come for audacious and deep-seated reform. Local government is coming up with the route map and readying itself for the immense task ahead. We call upon central government to join us on this journey to a better future for all.'

Vice chairman of the Local Government Association and leader of the Labour group, Jeremy Beecham, said:

'We have shared ambitions between central and local government. We have a consensus across Westminster that we need a decentralising, devolving and deregulating agenda in order to improve public services and strengthen local democracy.'

Leader of the Conservative group, Margaret Eaton, said:

'Closer to People and Places sets out our vision for the future of local government. It promotes the concept of local people having a real say about how their communities are run, with local leaders being the drivers of service improvement and free from the controls and regulations of central government.'

Leader of the Liberal Democrat group, Richard Kemp said:

'Over the past few years local government has made major strides in changing the way they do business. That significant change has yet to be realised in the practices of large parts of central government. Government still wastes billions on the deliverance of national priorities which do not match the real needs of communities. Closer to People and Places will help government deliver services for local people and help get value for money for the taxpayer.'

Deputy leader of the Independent group, Keith Ross, said:

'There is an emerging consensus that further improvement in public services and the quality of life can be best driven locally through strong local partnerships across the public sector, focusing on locally drawn targets and priorities, and working more closely with the private, business, voluntary and community sectors.'

Don't scrap councils and don't cut councillor numbers - town hall leaders urge

A new report by the Local Government Association will urge government not to reduce the number of councils or councillors as part of its reform and reorganisation drive launched under the former local government minister, David Miliband.

Today's report highlights that the UK has the lowest ratio of elected representatives per voter in the western world, and warns that reducing the number of councillors would further reduce the connection between people and their local politician.

Figures show that for every elected councillor in France there are 116 voters; Germany 250 voters; Italy 397 voters; Spain 597 voters; Sweden 667 voters and Denmark 1,084 voters. Even before any possible reorganisation of local government the UK has 2,605 voters for every councillor.

Sir Sandy said:

'In recent months the government has stimulated a discussion on the structure of local government in shire county areas. Councils will continue to make their own responses to the issues the government has raised. Our concern is any proposals on structure must be made in the context of the broader argument set out around devolution and that of the proposed Local Government White Paper.

'This issue needs to be considered in the context of strengthening neighbourhood governance. There are arguments about efficiency gains and the costs of re-organisation but if the objective of government is to strengthen neighbourhood arrangements, then account should be taken of the relative under representation of the public in comparison to other major democracies. As things current stand, it is not obvious that English local government would be strengthened by a further reduction in the number of councillors.

'Past experience has proved that local government reorganisation always takes longer, costs more and delivers less than ever envisaged.'

Figures for the number of elected representatives compared to the number of voters have been taken from Page 13 of the pamphlet Big Bang Localism - A Rescue Plan for British Democracy, written by Simon Jenkins and published by the Policy Exchange. A copy of the report can be found

Postcode lotteries are good for local people say town hall leaders

'Postcode lotteries' of how services are delivered is a good thing council leaders.

Today's report says that postcode lotteries should be seen as a 'postcode choice' where options about which types of services have a higher priority show that local decision making has replaced Whitehall bureaucrat dictats.

Local government leaders will call for people to see 'postcode choice' as a positive step to giving a real choice to local people on how they want their services run rather than seeing it as a 'postcode lottery', thus reducing choice over public services they see as a priority in their community.

Sir Sandy said:

'What we need now are not further small steps towards changing the balance of power, but bold reforming strides.

'In a truly devolved world, it should be for local people and their councils to take decisions about which services they want and the level of expenditure they need.

'There needs to be a new system of devolved government that offers a new settlement with the people, more power and influence in public decisions, greater choice, and stronger voice in the delivery of services.

'Such a settlement must allow decisions and public services to be tailored for the place, and people to be involved in doing this. Wider local discretion to vary services in the light of a vision for the locality and local priorities is an essential element of our proposals.

'This is about enabling 'postcode choice', and about providing high quality services everywhere but with variation to meet local needs and aspirations and respond to local judgements about priorities and value for money. It is also about stronger accountability for government at the local level to be held to account, by partners and people, for delivering the vision for the locality.'

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