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COUNCILS CALL FOR MORE FREEDOMS IN WELSH WHITE PAPER

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The Welsh Local Government Association has today welcomed the tone of the national assembly's policy statement on l...
The Welsh Local Government Association has today welcomed the tone of the national assembly's policy statement on local government, but has expressed disappointment at some 'tentative' proposals, in particular those relating to financial reform.

Speaking at the launch of 'Freedom and Responsibility in local government'in Swansea today, Harry Jones, leader of the WLGA said:

'Devolution has brought about a different approach to central-local relations in Wales and today's announcement is significant in that it is the first devolved policy statement referring specifically to Welsh local government. I would like to commend the tone of the policy document. It promotes a genuine partnership between the Assembly and local government and it avoids the hectoring tone we have seen in many previous white papers.'

'We note the distinctiveness of the assembly's proposals and we support the view that Wales needs policies which are distinct from those in England. This is particularly welcome with regards Wales' new ambitious programme for improvement.'

Sir Harry detailed other broad proposals which the Association welcomed, including:

- the commitment to ensure that assembly sponsored bodies play their full part in supporting community strategies. The association will, however call for a duty to be placed on these bodies to participate in community planning;

- greater freedom to trade goods and services with other organisations;

- indemnities for members who serve on joint bodies and limited liability companies;

- the creation of support units for procurement and equalities managed within the association;

- clarity about the terms which are permissible in contracts for the supply of goods and services;

- the development of e-government with assembly financial support;

- proposals to rationalise the number of plans which local authorities have to prepare - and the partnerships they have to form;

- the review of specific grants with a view to transferring as many as possible into the general revenue settlement.

Sir Harry continued:

'The association is, however, less convinced by the financial chapters of the policy document. Whilst many of the individual proposals are unobjectionable they seem to shy away from fundamental reform and the association will press for more radical changes. For example, it proposes largely the status quo for council tax and the assembly has stopped short of making a policy statement on business rates, promising further consultation. A major chance will be missed if this tax remains outside of local authority control.

'The introduction of a prudential code of local authority borrowing is a change local government will welcome but it is still to be seen whether the promised 'more freedom to borrow' translates into 'freedom to borrow more'.

'It is also unclear whether the complex proposals for the radical reform of housing finance represent a significant change or just a shuffling of the deckchairs.

'We have a lot of work to do to understand the full implications of the Welsh assembly government's paper and will evaluate the detail carefully prior to responding to the consultations. The association will work with local authorities across Wales to ensure the Welsh assembly government receives a full and studied response to 'Freedom and Responsibility in local government'.'

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