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By Mark Smulian...
By Mark Smulian

Labour will transfer powers to councils, communities and regions, the party's general election manifesto claims.

But it has stopped short of proposing neighbourhood government.

'We will devolve more power to local authorities and local communities,' it declares.

Proposals on councils' powers and role stick closely to the five-year plan and other documents issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister last winter (LGC, 4 February).

These include new powers for neighbourhoods and parish councils such as running village halls, but not, Labour stresses, 'a new tier of neighbourhood government'.

Councils would gain further unspecified freedoms 'subject to minimum national standards', with more, unspecified freedoms for the best performers. Funding streams will be simplified through local area agreements.

Councils' education function is defined in minimalist terms as 'a vital role in championing the parental interest and providing support services', including special education needs.

Schools are expected to work together to raise standards, but local government's role in this is not explained.

Despite the absence of an obligation under the Children Act for schools to co-operate with delivering joined-up children's services, Labour claims 'we are reforming local education authorities to form children's trusts to provide seamless support to children and families'.

Labour says it would 'explore giving people a more direct opportunity to express a view about . . . a directly elected mayor', and consult with councils on what powers 'a new generation of city mayors' should have. The manifesto says nothing about the debate on a change to all-unitary councils.

Plans to tackle anti-social behaviour include a single phone number to police and councils to tackle non-emergency issues.

In a change of emphasis on procurement, Labour urged councils to work with community and voluntary sector social enterprises and to include them in procurement policies 'on equal terms'.

Faith in regionalism faltered after last November's referendum defeated government plans for an elected north-east regional assembly. But the manifesto says: 'We will devolve further responsibility to existing regional bodies in relation to planning, housing, economic development and transport.'

Regional bodies are appropriate for issues that cross council boundaries and where national decisions would be 'too remote.'

2010: Stronger local government

>> More powers for regions on planning, housing, economic development and transport

>> Police teams in each neighbourhood; powers for neighbourhoods and parishes over anti-social behaviour and the environment - but not a 'new tier of neighbourhood government'

>> Local area agreements to promote flexibility but no let up in capping.

>> Consultation on city mayors and mayoral ballots

>> Minimal role for councils in education

>> More opportunities to control bus services

>> Resumption of council housing construction.

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