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The government is centralising with one hand, even while it decentralises with the other, according to The Economis...
The government is centralising with one hand, even while it decentralises with the other, according to The Economist (p44).

Labour has devolved power from Westminster to Scotland and Wales and set up an elected London mayor and assembly. But in the rest of England, the government's devolution intentions seem to have been ground down by the mills of Whitehall.

The result is a set of contradictory policies: this week signs emerged that devolution to the English regions is being nudged forward, while councils are coming more and more under the thumbs of ministers and mandarins.

John Prescott, the environment secretary, and the chancellor Gordon Brown held a meeting with all the regional development agency chairman in Birmingham on 23 June and told them that the spending review, to be announced next month, will give them more money and more control over how they spend it.

But the RDA chairmen will not, however, be celebrating until they hear what the government is going to do about recommendations made by the cabinet's performance and innovation unit in February.

The unit looked at the plethora of special schemes being run by the government to try and improve life in poorer parts of England and conlcuded that the clashing bureaucratic regimes of different Whitehall departments meant that a lot of money and effort were being wasted.

To clear up the mess, it said the regional government offices should be beefed up to exert more local control. Mr Prescott, however, thinks that this means further centralisation and reckons that he is winning arguments in the cabinet against this move.

But councils feel they are losing their arguments. 'Government policy is heading in both centralising and decentralising directions,' says Brian Briscoe, chief executive of the Local Government Association.

While the government wants more of England's cities to opt for directly-elected mayors, it is attaching more and more strings to the money it gives to councils to spend - about 30% of the government's grants to council is now tied to specific projects.

Many local council used to fear that regional government was a big threat to them as it would such up a lot of their power. Now it seems that central government is a much bigger danger, the article concludes.

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