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Labour manifesto says much but means little...
Labour manifesto says much but means little

Yet again, Labour is promising 'stronger local government' in its election manifesto.

Two councils - Greenwich LBC and Gateshead Council - are even acknowledged by name for culture-led regeneration of their cities.

Without so much as a blush, Labour claims centralisation came to a shuddering halt the moment they took power. In a grammatical somersault, they now promise a third term would be spent 'embedding a culture of devolved government at the centre'.

Some of the neighbourhood ideas have an engaging simplicity about them. Who could argue, for example, with a single local phone number to summon both the police and the council to deal with problems such as anti-social behaviour?

And there is evidence that 'ultra-localists' such as Hazel Blears and Alan Milburn have lost ground, with an explicit rejection of the idea of 'a new tier of neighbourhood government'.

However, promises to 'dramatically simplify' funding streams through local area agreements ring a little hollow considering the government told LGC it was 'not logistically possible' to supply a comprehensive list of what those funding streams are (LGC, 27 August 2004), because nobody even knew the total number.

Meanwhile the promise to 'give councils further freedoms' is left unsubstantiated, while the thought of 'even greater freedoms for top-performing councils' is unlikely to stimulate much excitement among 'excellent' authorities worn down by months of largely fruitless negotiations to gain the extra powers they expected.

Labour's manifesto lacks coherence. While the themes of community pepper the 112-page document, there is no over-arching strategy for its vision of the locality, or the relationship between local, regional and central government.

The biggest hole in Labour's policies for local communities is its failure to integrate schools with its wider policy objectives. The decision not to compel schools to co-operate with the integration of children's services under the Children Act 2004 remains one of the government's more stupid decisions. Nothing in the manifesto indicates this is going to be addressed.

So the words are warmer, the recognition of achievement a little more explicit, and the idea of city mayors offers some hope of radical reform. But the policy on local communities is still piecemeal and all too prone to the vagaries of the increasingly short-term approach of Labour's senior policy makers.

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