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A radical devolution of power and strengthening of local leadership is critical if local neighbourhoods are to be r...
A radical devolution of power and strengthening of local leadership is critical if local neighbourhoods are to be revived, the Local Government Association said today.

In a paper, 'Stronger political leadership, better local government,' the association argues that a 'one size fits all' approach to local government will not work, and calls for greater freedom for councils to determine, in consultation with local communities, what arrangements best suit local circumstances.

Neighbourhood committees with real powers, a stronger local leadership role for council leaders and mayors, more inclusive processes for local decision-making and more training and support for the representative role of councillors are some of the options which local government leaders say need to be explored.

In anticipation of the publication of government consultation papers setting out its thoughts on local leadership and neighbourhood engagement, Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of the LGA said:

'People want to see that they have an influence over the matters that most affect their lives and elected local councils are unrivalled in their position to be able to understand local people's aspirations and priorities and to support local communities by bringing together all local public services. Local councils must use their democratic legitimacy to lead partnerships that join together all the key players and services in their area. The ODPM's five year strategy must acknowledge and encourage councils in this key role. It is vital that this leadership role for councils is given the recognition, freedom, power and resources it needs so we in turn can empower our residents, communities and local organisations.'

To give real meaning to local governance, the LGA is calling for a major decentralisation to give councils real autonomy, as well as for key public services and agencies to be transferred to local democratic leadership, for a reform of local taxation, streamlined inspection and an equal partnership between local and central government.

Four 'citizens tests' of good local government are proposed for use in evaluating and comparing how well councils are governing: Transparency - so people can identify who is democratically accountable in which public body to act on their problems; Subsidiarity - so power is devolved to the most local level of government appropriate; Responsiveness - so decision-making is fast, effective and welcomes participation; and Equality and inclusiveness - so all citizens are given an equal opportunity to participate and have equal weight in the process.

The association is also calling for the government to extend the roll-out of local area agreements, currently being piloted around the country, and believes they give councils the freedom they need to lead partnership working with other public bodies in a local area to join up spending and services in a way that best fits local needs.

'People expect councillors to champion their interests on all local issues, but these rarely fit into neat service areas,' added Sir Sandy. 'That's why it is vital to have a single focus for local leadership and capacity to bring all local public services to bear in a co-ordinated way.'

To continue its drive for even better local government, the LGA intends to work with local councils, the government and the Improvement and Development Agency to secure the freedom and support and is needed to help local councils further develop their position as community leaders.

Copies of Stronger political leadership, better local government can be downloaded here.

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