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The government's moves towards front-line first funding are offensive, Local Government Association chairman Sir Je...
The government's moves towards front-line first funding are offensive, Local Government Association chairman Sir Jeremy Beecham claimed.

In his opening address to the LGA's fourth annual conference, Sir Jeremy said: 'Notwithstanding the commitment of the deputy prime minister and many senior colleagues to promote an effective relationship between central and local government, tensions clearly exist.

'These were highlighted a few months ago when we read what were clearly inspired reports about the concept of frontline first, under which some government departments apparently wish to fund services directly, 'cutting out the middle man' included democratically elected local councillors.

'I find the notion that councils and councillors are not themselves in the front line frankly offensive. Many of us have spent years struggling to maintain services and improve standards against a background of tight financial constraints imposed by central government, and periodic denigration by ministers.'

He compared the government's moves towards centralised control with the failed communist command economies of eastern Europe. 'We look to government to acknowledge the need for local accountability and diversity. It must recognise that 25,000 schools cannot be run from Whitehall. It must understand that joined-up government requires flexibility.'

He again called on ministers to recognise that healthy local democracy depends on councils having the freedom and capacity to make a difference locally.

Sir Jeremy highlighted the success the LGA had had in influencing government, including changes to the local government and transport Bills, extension of the Race Relations Act to cover public authorities and securing a significant role for councils in the housing green paper.

But he concluded: 'The last year has been one of mixed messages for the future of local government. The next year, in the run-up to the general election, must be the year in which local councils and their partners stake their claim to be recognised, in deed as well as word, as partners in the renewal of our democracy.'

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