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LOCAL GOVERNMENT SECRETARY SETS OUT DEVOLUTION AGENDA

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Local government secretary Ruth Kelly today set out her agenda for devolution that will see communities in control ...
Local government secretary Ruth Kelly today set out her agenda for devolution that will see communities in control of their services and local quality of life.

In the run up to the Local Government White Paper, to be published in the autumn, Ms Kelly explained that devolution must not stop at local government. As central government devolves power to local authorities, they must, in turn, look more to what their communities want.

Setting out her vision, the secretary of state highlighted that there could be no one-size fits all solution to neighbourhood empowerment.

She affirmed that the nature of any neighbourhood arrangements should be appropriate to local circumstances and reflect local communities'

needs and their desired level of involvement. A framework for neighbourhood empowerment would be likely to include:

* Easy access to clearly presented information for communities.

People want to know what has happened and what is being planned in the area.

* Responsive local services, for instance, neighbourhood managers able to respond swiftly to residents' concerns.

* Community Call for Action. Whereby people raise issues with ward councillors, and ward councillors either resolve them or have the power to go direct to the whole council for resolution.

* A clear mechanism which allows community groups to register an interest in taking over the management or ownership of some local services, where this is the best option for the local community.

Speaking to a seminar at Bellingham Healthy Living Centre in Lewisham, Ms Kelly said:

'It is clear that central government must retain a role on the economy and on ensuring equity across the country. At the same time councils must continue to take a strategic view, looking across all their communities. But there is a lot of scope for a greater level of engagement and involvement at neighbourhood level. Devolution to the town hall must lead to devolution from the town hall to communities.

'As things stand, the balance is not right. There are many local authorities across the country listening and receptive to local demands - but now this must become the norm across local government.

'This is in the interests of all of us. It is about strengthening representative democracy by combining it with more on-going participation. It can - and will - lead to real tangible improvements.'

Neighbourhood empowerment - giving local people a real opportunity to improve their services and facilities - will be one of the key themes of this Autumn's White Paper and Ms Kelly visited a number of projects in Bellingham, South London, that reinforce this approach.

A community green which has been transformed from derelict land and a youth and community gateway centre - both run and managed at neighbourhood level - made up part of the tour as Ms Kelly heard first hand how regeneration in Bellingham had been triggered by the local community.

The theme of neighbourhood action continued at Bellingham Community Garden and Firhill Allotments - another run down site that has now been transformed into a community asset with young and old people working side by side. The project is now self-financing and plays an important role combating anti-social behaviour in the locality.

Ms Kelly added:

'Through community action, run down areas in Bellingham that previously acted as a beacon for anti-social behaviour have been dramatically transformed into assets local people of all generations can use and be proud of.

'These are people from the local community who wanted to turn around the local environment - and have. Who wanted to bring people together

- and have. Who wanted to make a difference - and they have.

'Because of these kinds of successes I am determined that the starting point for our new deal for neighbourhoods must be the people who live there.

Whether it is ensuring greater responsiveness to neighbourhood issues or - when people want to - giving greater control to local communities, it makes sense to make sure local people can have a greater say in their areas.'

Ms Kelly's full speech

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