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LGC FEATURE - ON YOUR MARKS

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As the race for No 10 begins lgc brings you your own bluffer's guide tp the general election. ...
As the race for No 10 begins lgc brings you your own bluffer's guide tp the general election.
-Labour
The main promise in Labour's manifesto is to keep the economy stable while investing in, but also reforming, public services.
Strong and accountable local government is one of the manifesto's 10 goals, but the manifesto makes clear partnership with the voluntary and private sectors is the future. It claims Labour would 'empower local communities by combining resources with responsibilities'.
There would be£1bn of tax cuts offered over five years to promote capital investment in urban areas, while the planning system would be speeded up. A target to build 60% of new houses on brownfield sites would be set.
A department of rural affairs would be set up to provide leadership on countryside issues. There would be£100m of public and private money for the renewal of market towns. Regional Development Agencies would be made responsible for rural as well as urban areas. There would be rate relief for rural pubs, garages and shops.
Investment would be accompanied by reform, described as 'decentralisation of power with strong incentives for high performance'. Education and healthcare are the priorities within this.
The share of national income devoted to education would rise from 5% to 5.3% by 2003-4. Over the next three years£8bn would be invested in school buildings and equipment. Successful schools would get management freedoms and reduced regulation.
Councils would 'focus on supporting school improvement, especially services that cannot be provided by individual schools'. But where they cannot, 'alternative provision' would be made - what this is is not spelt out.
The welfare state would reformed to promote work where possible. Housing benefit would be simplified.£355m would be invested in social care services for carers over the next three years. A fund for councils to produce tailored care packages following an independent assessment of carers' needs would be examined. There would be a target to place an extra 1,000 children a year in adopted families.
There would be£900m investment in deprived neighbourhoods, which would deliver change via local strategic partnerships - 'a coalition of public, private and voluntary organisations specifying priorities, engaging local effort'.
Upper tier councils would receive£400m and extra flexibilities under public service agreements. There would be greater flexibility to invest in capital projects.
Quality of life would be in councils' remit, via home zones and a local environment fund obtained from local fines. Every council must have an anti-social behaviour unit'.
The government would continue to support directly elected mayors. The manifesto re-iterates the commitment to English devolution 'where people decide in a referendum to support it and where predominantly unitary local government supports it'.
-Green
The Green's manifesto is not all about solar energy and slapping crippling
taxes on petrol. It also contains some radical fiscal policies.
It proposes a Citizen's Income - a non means-tested payment to every citizen, working or not, raised by a 7% hike in income tax. This will 'cover basic needs without removing all motivation to take paid employment'.
It also proposes axing business rates and council tax, replacing them with a local land value tax which would be related to 'rental value and varied locally according to the [land's] social and environmental desirability'.
The private finance initiative and public/private partnerships would be scrapped to be 'replaced by proper government funding'.
Housing is a major part of the manifesto and the Greens would urge councils to use empty property.
The royal family would remain in a ceremonial capacity - to keep the readers of Hello happy.
-Plaid Cymru
As New Labour move further into traditional Conservative territory other parties are preparing to steal their core vote. Nowhere is this more evident than in Plaid Cymru's manifesto.
Old Labour-style policies include: a call for the private finance initiative to be suspended because it has 'caused a£5bn underspend in public investment'; a 50% tax rate on anyone earning more than£50,000 (council chief executives take note); and a pledge to re-nationalise the railways.
As would be expected of a party reaching out to the provinces, the manifesto indulges in a spot of city-bashing.
'As we press strongly for a radical change in the monetary and fiscal policies of the United Kingdom, one of our main demands will be that the principle of redistribution - geographical and social - be made a major element in policy.
There is no conflict between this and general success of the economy, as over-heating in South-east England is leading to serious problems for the economy and the environment.'
The party's redistribution of wealth (words not heard since Michael Foot) involves a review of the Barnett funding formula.
Plaid Cymru calls for changes to social security, particularly housing benefit. It
says councils must receive all the housing benefit for a tenant and local people should be helped to buy property where house prices have soared beyond their pockets - a dig at English holiday cottage owners, no doubt.
Teachers will rub their hands at the news that Plaid Cymru would press for a pay rise rather than performance-related pay, although it does not specify how much.
The manifesto attacks the way school funding is decided upon and says the 'Labour approach to educational provision is completely alien to Welsh values'. However it does not provide an alternative.
Political commentators have suggested Plaid Cymru could snatch some seats from under Labour's nose - this manifesto makes that look more than a possibility.
-Conservative
The thrust of the Conservative manifesto is that the party would cut taxes while providing the same level of investment in public services as Labour.
Conservatives claim they woulddo this by spending the money better, for example by cutting central government bureaucracy and abolishing regional development agencies.
There is a large section devoted to local democracy, which says: 'The next Conservative government will revolutionise the attitude of central government.'
The best councils would become 'free councils' with devolved financial and administrative powers, plus a stronger link between the money raised and spent.
Councils would have to hold referendums if they raise council tax 'significantly above the level of inflation', but capping would be abolished.
The Tories would retain s28 of the Local Government Act 2000 banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools.
Spending cuts would fund business rate cuts for rural shops, pubs and village post offices.
Centrally-set national or regional house-building targets would be abolished: 'Councils responsible to local people should be responsible for meeting local housing needs.'
Planning procedures for building houses on brownfield sites would be streamlined and councils would get powers to declare extra green and blue - around water - belt areas.
Regeneration companies would drive the renewal of the inner cities and urban estates. They would work in partnership with councils to obtain extra police, tear down tower blocks and accelerate development.
There would be support for declining coastal towns to protect their heritage and coastline, and deal with asylum seekers. Asylum seekers would be housed in secure reception centres, and the application procedure speeded up.
On transport, a Roads Standards Unit would be set up to 'champion the interests of road users'. A Tory government would 'work with [London transport commissioner] Bob Kiley subject to a no strike deal.
The Tories would get tough on benefit fraud via a 'single, integrated task force' to tackle fraud nationwide.
The Tories would give school heads and governors total freedom. Successful schools would be allowed to expand. Religious faiths, parents, charities and companies would be able to set up new schools. Worried parents would be able to call for Ofsted inspections.
The Conservatives say little about social services. But the manifesto commits to nursing care free at the point of use. It promises to 'consider' how the elderly can protect their assets if costs are higher than foreseen.
-Liberal Democrat
The Liberal Democrat manifesto is one of the wordiest. It is dotted with responsibilities for local government.
In health the Lib Dems would provide free personal care for elderly and long-term patients, and transfer the responsibility for public health from health authorities to councils.
Social services budgets would be increased and there would be measures to ensure
fostering and adoption focuses on the needs of the child. Housing benefit would be simplified and councils required to adopt effective anti-fraud strategies.
In education the Lib Dems would maintain the role of councils in 'providing education, guaranteeing standards and co-ordinating services'. They would also cull Whitehall directives annually, reducing the burden of paperwork on councils, schools and governors. The Learning and Skills Council would be merged with the Higher Education Funding Council.
The party would allow local government to raise money to improve public transport and the environment. They would secure stronger public control over investment in the railways, and enable councils to raise bonds and establish congestion charges and parking taxes to improve public transport.
The Lib Dems are committed to constitutional reform and would 'devolve more power to the nations and regions of Britain and to local authorities'. Regions would be able to hold referendums on assemblies, taking powers from Westminster and quangos if set up.
Council tax would be replaced with local income tax, and councils would have more discretion over how they spend it. Councils would get a constitutional power of competence giving them greater scope for action.
In regeneration, councils would develop brownfield sites with businesses, and have greater freedom to invest in housing. There would be 50% mandatory rate relief for village pubs and powers to grant rate relief for services and businesses.
-SNP
The Scottish National Party has to reassert itself in the face of criticism it is a single issue party.
The SNP has long campaigned for independence, but the devolved Parliament is now in charge of public services and many feel devolution goes a long way to delivering the separatists' aims.
But the party feels devolution does not go far enough and intends to fight the election by claiming there is a need to 'complete the powers of the Scottish Parliament' and cut the ties with England and Wales.
The SNP insists the government in Westminster intends to improve services south of the border at the expense of Scotland.
SNP leader John Swinney said: 'New Labour is cutting Scotland's share of spending on public services. But not fast enough for some. John Prescott has talked about 'blood on the carpet' after the election.'
The SNP pledges to deliver 1,500 new nurses, 1,000 new police officers and cut primary school class sizes.
The SNP would set up a Scottish Trust for Public Investment, which would seek the best deal outside the public sector, but on a not-for-profit basis.
Some English regions complain Scotland receives too much central funding for public services but the SNP says a surplus of£7.7bn would be sent from Scotland to the Treasury, when it should be spent in Scotland.
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