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Lib Dems offer quango cull

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Conference votes for local democratic accountability

The Liberal Democrats have voted at their annual conference to give councils the power to scrap any quango that operates in their area.

The policy paper The power to be different calls for councils to take over swathes of powers held by central government bodies, to make their work more democratically accountable.

Councils should be able to "scrap quangos, change quangos' remits and reduce or
transfer their powers or functions", the paper says.

Shadow communities and local government secretary Andrew Stunell said he wanted councils to be free to develop whatever approach best fitted their area's needs, without national targets or centrally imposed policies to guide them.

"Labour wants a one-size-fits-all approach," he said. "It will assess something in Accrington then apply it in Andover, regardless of whether it is suitable there.

"Ministers talk all the time about 'rolling out' policies for local government. Tanks roll out."

Mr Stunell derided the government's "double devolution" concept, originally devised by former communities and local government minister David Miliband, which is meant to lead to councils being empowered if they devolve decision making to neighbourhoods. Mr Stunell said it offered no substantial new powers for either councils or communities.

The conference narrowly backed a call for the creation of local boards of service users, which would run services such as libraries in collaboration with councils.

Opposition was led by Steve Comer, the party's group leader at Bristol City Council, who said this would lead to "self-selected groups running things on a minority basis - things have to be accountable through councils".

The party's Local Government Association group leader Richard Kemp told its ruling groups to use their powers to increase public participation and devolution to neighbourhoods.

"I hear Liberal Democrat councils boast that they are efficient, or give good value for money," he said. "Labour and Tory councils can do that - are you using your power to bring a real change in your
communities?"

The policy paper also demands a long-term target that 75% of councils' spending should be raised locally, against 25% now, and for an end to the executive/scrutiny split if councils did not want it.

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