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Alternative white paper is revealed...
Alternative white paper is revealed

By Jennifer Sprinks

Elected leaders need to be put in charge of local area agreements (LAAs) if central government wants to see improved services for residents, the Local Government Association has claimed.

In a report, Closer to people and places, the LGA calls for councils to be given greater freedom to set taxation and for more distinct powers over transport, planning, economic development and skills.

It says powers over these prime areas and funding should be devolved either to a directly elected mayor or a leader elected by councillors, who would be responsible for achieving outcomes within a local area agreement.

It suggests such leadership in a city, across a number of metropolitan councils or across unitaries, counties and districts could spark government confidence to loosen its reigns on councils.

LGA vice chairman Sir Jeremy Beecham (Lab) told LGC: 'If you take the level of a city region, we have major issues such as transport and waste to tackle. So much of government work is done in silos so an [enlarged] LAA would help bring all the relevant government departments and local partners together. Instead of a bilateral relationship between government and councils there would be communication between all partners under an LAA.'

LGA chairman Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart (Con) denied the suggestion for extending LAAs to city regional level was a way of diverting government attention from city regions.

'We are not bargaining away structures but are just trying to get the best deal for local people,' he said.

The report proposes slashing 1,000 targets set by central government, estimating this could save as much as£2.5bn for taxpayers. The targets would be replaced by 30 national outcomes agreed by central and local government that could be tailored locally for issues such as public health and reducing crime.

The report also calls for a decentralisation of local government finance to help rebalance funding, in which it proposes a return of the local business rates with an inflation safeguard to help raise revenue and set budgets locally.

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