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MODERNISING LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN WALES

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Welsh local government minister Win Griffiths has given details of publication of proposals for a new ethical frame...
Welsh local government minister Win Griffiths has given details of publication of proposals for a new ethical framework for local government in Wales.

He said in a parliamentary answer: 'I have today placed in the library of the house copies of the seventh and final consultation paper in the series inviting views on the options for modernising local government in Wales.

'The paper sets out the government's proposals for a new ethical framework for Welsh local government. It will underpin the modernising process by ensuring that councillors and council employees are aware of the conduct expected of them and that all allegations will be investigated and appropriate action taken if they are upheld. These changes will ensure that the public retains confidence in Welsh local government.'

On Tuesday Mr Griffiths today announced the publication of three further consultation papers in the series Modernising Local Government in Wales.

The papers deal with best value, council tax and business rates.

Improving local services through best value sets out proposals for how councils will deliver their services in the future; best value will, in due course, replace the existing legislation on compulsory competitive tendering.

Mr Griffiths said: 'Best value is about delivering services that people need at a price they can afford. Local people will be consulted about the services that are provided for them and councils will set targets to improve the quality and efficiency of their services. Recent Audit Commission figures show that their is scope for improvement in many Welsh councils.'

Detailed proposals contained in the consultation paper are:

- standards of performance will be set for all council services. Some will be set locally and some nationally;

- each year councils will have to review a proportion - around a quarter - of their services to see how they can improve performance;

- as part of every review, councils will:

- challenge the reason for providing a particular service to ensure that it is properly justified;

- consult local people about the quality and range of services;

- compare the performance of their council with others of the same type;

- complete to show that the service is being delivered at a cost and to a standard that bears comparison with the best. Competition will play a key part in demonstrating the best value is being achieved.

- Local auditors will report annually to the council and to the public on how well councils are meeting best value requirements;

- the national assembly for Wales will have powers to intervene in serious cases where the councils fall short of acceptable standards.

The paper Improving Local Accountability for Council Tax focuses on way of straightening local accountability for levels of council tax an deducing central government's involvement in decisions of local tax levels. It is linked with papers on Local Democracy and Community Leadership in terms of increasing local accountability, and Improving Local Services through Best Value, in terms of securing quality services at a price people are willing to pay.

Mr Griffiths said: 'We are committed to strengthening the way councils account to their people for their actions. We are committed to removing crude and universal capping. Many of the ideas in the earlier consultation paper on renewing local democracy can be applied in the field of finance too.

'We are not seeking change for its own sake. For instance, we propose no radical changes to the council tax system. But we do want to see a radical change in the extent to which local people can have a say in the decisions their councils make on financial and service delivery issues.'

The paper Business Rates sets out the arguments for introducing some local discretion over the business rates while protecting the interest of business, in the context of a strong and effective relationship between local councils and business.

Mr Griffiths said: 'Local authorities and business are important to each other and have a common interest in the formation and achievement of the local vision. Local authority services and their regulatory functions are of critical importance to a thriving business community. Local authorities are major customers of local business in the purchase of goods and services and as employers of the construction industry on capital projects. A strong and effective relationship between local authorities and local businesses in vital. A strong and effective relationship between local authorities and local businesses is vital. gainst this background, there are strong arguments for allowing a measure of local discretion over the business rate.

'Making authorities directly responsible for local tax decisions affecting the whole community would strengthen their leadership role and would enhance local financial autonomy by increasing the proportion of local expenditure funded form local tax income. It would give business a stronger claim on the attention of local authorities and greater interest in developing a shared local vision. Local authorities would have a direct incentive to promote business and development in order to increase the rateable value'.

In an earlier answer he said: 'The paper Improving Local Services Through Best Value takes forward the government's commitment to introduce a comprehensive regime to ensure continuous improvement in the performance of local services. Best value will also provide a much greater opportunity for local people to comment on how local services should be delivered in their areas. Best value will cover all local services and will, in due course, replace the existing compulsory competitive legislation which applies to only some local services.

The paper Improving Local Accountability for Council Tax sets out proposals for strengthening local accountability for levels of council tax and reducing central government's involvement in decisions on council tax levels.

The paper Business Rates sets out the arguments for introducing some local discretion over the business rates, in the context of strong and effective relationship between local councils and business.

The papers are closely linked, because the duty to secure best value in service delivery is a key measure in the effort to increase local accountability for financial issues. We look forward to receiving comments on all these proposals.

Responses to the consultation exercise will be drawn on to prepare a White Paper on Local Government in Wales, which will be published in the summer.

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