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DEPARTMENTS MUST STICK TO MAJOR DEAL

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Prime minister John Major has announced guidelines for improving relations between central and local government. ...
Prime minister John Major has announced guidelines for improving relations between central and local government.

Local government leaders welcomed the guidelines after meeting Mr Major on Wednesday, even though they had hoped councils would be given the right to some autonomy within the democratic system.

'We look forward to them being implemented by all government departments and local authorities and trust the message of co-operation and early consultation will be taken seriously by both sides,' said Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and leader of the local government delegation to Downing Street.

Mr Major said a constructive relationship between central and local government was at the core of his view of the renaissance of local government in the 1990s.

'Today's guidelines are intended to assist this vital and developing process,' he said.

A draft of the guidelines was circulated round Whitehall for comment.

At least one department was not entering into the spirit of the proposals: the Ministry of Defence insisted on the inclusion of what the local government side believed were pointless references to the need for government secrecy on national security.

The associations will be monitoring departments' adherence to the guidelines, which they are pressing the DoE to promulgate in Whitehall.

'We will use them as a benchmark and see how departments conform. If they do not we will make the departments and the prime minister aware,' Sir Jeremy told LGC.

He was disappointed the guidelines looked at local government from the narrow view of service delivery, rather than also acknowledging its role in the country's democratic framework.

Keith Geddes, senior vice president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, complained they did not extend to Scotland.

'I would welcome the introduction in Scotland of guidelines similar to those proposed south of the border, and I can only hope the spirit of co-operation which the prime minister endorsed today will affect the Scottish Office,' he said.

The government team included environment secretary John Gummer, local government minister David Curry, Welsh secretary John Redwood and Scottish minister Allan Stewart.

During the meeting with Mr Major the local government delegation expressed concern at the absence of a council representative from the inquiry under Lord Nolan into standards in public life.

They explained their fears about under-funding and capping, and made clear their intention to hold further discussions with ministers about making quangos locally accountable.

The delegation found the atmosphere straightforward and friendly.

Sir Jeremy said afterwards there was agreement to examine how regulations could be relaxed to stimulate further private investment in local government projects, and Mr Major had promised to consider their wish for representation on the Nolan inquiry.

'He is not ideologically fixated on capping but he did not offer any immediate relief,' Sir Jeremy said.

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