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Efficiency drive under fire

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Labour has encouraged local authorities to look for short-term efficiency gains at the expense of long-term social and economic wellbeing, Conservative leader David Cameron said this week.

Addressing the Campaign to Protect Rural England on Monday, Mr Cameron claimed Labour had taken a “top-down, big is beautiful” approach, which has marginalised local government.

Mr Cameron said: “Over the past decade our public services have suffered an almost permanent assault through wave after wave of top-down reorganisations.”

“National government has encouraged local government to behave in the same way, with similar results for example with schools and hospitals. These reorganisations may reduce costs in the short term, but they increase costs in the long term.”

Mr Cameron also pledged to dismantle regional government “piece by piece”, if elected, and hand the power back to local level.

While official party policy has stopped short of a blanket abolition of the regional development agencies, shadow local government minister Eric Pickles has consistently criticised the multi-billion pound regional quangos.

Mr Cameron also said giving planning powers to the regional level would “remove the input of local communities from planning applications”.

Communities secretary Hazel Blears dismissed Mr Cameron’s speech. “He is saying one thing to local communities, but quite another back in Westminster,” she said.

Mr Cameron’s claim that a Conservative government would return planning powers back to a local level comes as the public sector faces an alarming shortage of planners.

A top-level delegation from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) this week told a commons inquiry into planning skills that funding should be provided to encourage more people to enter the profession.

According to Robert Upton, general secretary of the RTPI, two out of three planning students trained using public cash are immediately recruited into the private sector.

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