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LGA CONF: TORIES LAUNCH 10-POINT PLAN FOR DECENTRALISATION

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Shadow environment secretary Archie Norman, speaking to the Conservative group of the Local Government Association ...
Shadow environment secretary Archie Norman, speaking to the Conservative group of the Local Government Association in Bournemouth set out a 10 point plan to halt Labour's worrying trend of centralisation. Mr Norman said yesterday:

'Conservatives are committed to reducing the power of the central state and giving people back control of their local neighbourhoods. Today William Hague made that clear in his speech to the conference, I will now set out a 10-point plan to reverse the culture of centralisation and interference that has been the trend for decades:

1. Abolition of Regional Government: Labour's plans for regional government will mean less, not more power to local communities. Labour have said that regional assemblies will require the abolition of all county councils. The cost of regional bureaucracy is expected to rise to£270m in administrative costs alone. Conservatives will abolish regional government and transfer the responsibilities to local communities.

2. Promoting Economic Development: Conservatives will abolish Regional Development Agencies as we believe they are unnecessary, bureaucratic structures. We will transfer responsibility and funding for economic development away from regional structures to local councils.

3. No Capping: Labour promised to abolish capping, but they have effectively left it in place and just made it more arbitrary. The next Conservative Government will not use its capping powers. We believe that local residents should be able to make informed decisions about the level of spending they want and vote accordingly.

4. Fewer Specific Grants: Labour are centralising power, shifting resources away from Block Grants towards Specific Grants. Since the election, Specific Grants for Education and Personal Social Services have increased by more than 50 per cent even before taking account of the effect of performance related pay changes. This means that councils have less discretion over how to spend their resources, weakening local democracy. Conservatives pledge to make reduced use of specific grants.

5. Choice on Structures: In the Local Government Bill, Labour are aiming to force councils to adopt new structures - like Cabinets and directly-elected Mayors. Conservatives believe that local communities should have the choice whether to introduce these or to keep their existing Committee system. It is not for central government to dictate structures to local councils.

6. Cutting Red Tape in Schools: Over the past three years, the Labour Government has sent out nearly 500 notices and circulars, introduced over 400 new regulations, issued more than 1,500 press releases and brought out seven new plans for local education authorities. This bureaucracy is taking up valuable teacher time and costs money that could be better spent in the classroom. The next Conservative Government will set schools free from bureaucracy by cutting the number of plans introduced by the Government and drastically reducing the number of circulars, missives and diktats, as well as giving greater discretion to individual schools.

7. Cutting Statutory Plans: We will trim back the number of 'plans' that local councils are obliged to produce (councils are currently required to produce 31 different types of plan). We would prefer more compact, comprehensive 'integrated' plans. As an illustration, we will abolish the statutory requirement to produce Local Transport Plans.

8. Local Discretion on Local Development: Conservatives will abolish regional and national housebuilding targets. Regional planning guidance will be abolished. The power of the Secretary of State to interfere in planning appeals will be removed. Instead, local communities will decide on the appropriate level of development in their local area. The current Government's plans for housebuilding on the countryside will be replaced with an emphasis by the Conservatives on urban regeneration - making existing towns and cities a more attractive place to live.

9. Local Materials, Local Architecture: Conservatives want to restore the sense of character and local identity in towns and villages. Local councils will be able to specify that new developments must use specified local materials or conform to local architecture. This will prevent a country of identikit, uniform homes, and will ensure that new developments are in keeping with local neighbourhoods. This is part of the Conservative Party's aim to initiate the biggest overhaul of planning policy for fifty years.

10. Fewer Quangos & Inspectorates: We will cull the number of quangos and inspectorates that waste taxpayers' money and create red tape. For example, our reform of the appeals system, the abolition of regional planning guidance and the strengthening of local autonomy, will allow us to abolish the Planning Inspectorate. The whole Best Value inspectorate regime is in drastic need of wholesale reform.

'We will restore the faith in politics by putting the decisions that matter to local communities, in the hands of those who understand local concerns.'

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