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Officers asked for ideas on central-local links

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Groups of council officers should put forward ideas on how the relationship between central and local government should be codified, the MP driving the idea has said.

Graham Allen (Lab, pictured), chair of the commons political and constitutional reform committee, told a parliamentary hearing on the idea that he would be consulting until October and “I want local authorities and teams of managers to use the consultation period to think about the answers.

“They may not be the answers we have suggested, but we are looking for something that commands consensus.”

Codification would involve a formal definition of the relationship between central and local tiers of government in England, with the powers of both and the boundaries between them legally enshrined.

Mr Allen told the communities and local government committee that this was needed because at present “central government grinds people [in local government] down and they feel they have no power or influence. There is codification across most other western countries.”

LGA chair Sir Merrick Cockell (Con) told the hearing: “The appetite is there for this. Councils should be able to decide on clusters of betting shops, for example, people in local government will say absolutely we should be free to be able to do that.

Sir Merrick said codification should not become a worthy but empty gesture like the Central/Local Concordat signed in 2007, which he described as “something which I have never to my knowledge looked at since it was signed”.

Mr Allen told the committee that codification could free councils from a mass of restrictions and “you will see a blossoming of a very strong spirit of public service through all political parties, and it will bring local authorities back to life”.

He said councils would be free to raise more money, for example with a hotel tax, but would have to win local support.

“Local government could borrow on the markets and buy and sell their own debt, and they would live or die by their own credit ratings and own prudence,” he said.

The more equal relationship would mean that if the central government wanted councils to do something, it would have to contract with them.

“You would no longer have governments saying ‘there is a scandal over Baby P, and you will do X, Y and Z but there is no extra money’. There would not be mandates without money.”

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