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REORGANISATION OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT IS JOB FOR REGIONAL ASSEMBLY NOT LONDON - FOSTER

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Liberal Democrat shadow secretary for transport, local government and the regions, Don Foster, reacting to the whit...
Liberal Democrat shadow secretary for transport, local government and the regions, Don Foster, reacting to the white paper on regional government, said:

'This country already has regional government, but it is undemocratic and has no accountability to the people of the regions. This is why the Liberal Democrats have campaigned for democratic regional assemblies for many years and are pleased to see the government taking action on the issue.

'However, this paper is full of missed opportunities to give the regional authorities the genuine strategic powers to deliver a new kind of government to local people, putting communities, and not Whitehall, in charge.

'The government's insistence on placing a complete tier of unitary government before the regional government package can proceed is both unrealistic and unhelpful. The reorganisation of local government is a job for the regional assembly to do and should not be undertaken from London. Insisting on this is crazy and will slow down the implementation of regional assemblies and undermine support.

'The Liberal Democrats are the only party to have an ambitious programme for regional government. We will be working very hard to improve this package of measures so that local communities are served by democracy.'

Notes

The Liberal Democrat 10 Key Points for Regional Government

1. Variable Speed - Will the Government allow regions to develop at a speed that suits local preferences?

Liberal Democrats Would:

- Create regional authorities only on the basis of successful local referenda.

- Require that the package of powers and style of government had been openly debated throughout the region with a range of stakeholders and community groups (preferably via a constitutional convention) to ensure that it had broad support.

Provide that any powers not taken on by the region are held in trust by central government for future devolution.

2.Tackling the Unaccountable Regional Quangocracy - Will the regions be given the option to supervise all key regional quangos?

Liberal Democrats Would:

- Give the regions control over all key quangos with power to decide their shape and structure, with the option to bring them in as regional ministries or external but reporting to the regional authority.

3. Flexibility on Boundaries - Will variation be allowed and smaller regions given a chance to make their case?

Liberal Democrats Would:

- Settle boundary disputes before regional government is embarked upon with a one-off time-limited review by the Electoral Commission with local referenda to decide contentious boundaries but with no division of local authority areas.

- Give areas smaller than current regions the right to put case for being regions in their own right.

- Ensure that the process was made as speedy as possible to allow those with the greatest desire for regional government and the least problematic boundaries to move ahead rapidly.

4. Local Government Reorganisation - Is unitary government a necessary precondition?

Liberal Democrats Would:

- Make no change to local government structures before regional government is introduced. The point is to democratise the existing regional tier of governance and decentralise new powers from central government - not draw up powers from local government. The questions should be dealt with separately.

- Regions themselves, working with Electoral Commission, will be able to determine own local government structures

5. Timescale - How quickly will we see regional government up and running?

Liberal Democrats Would:

- Move ahead as quickly as possibly and pass legislation allowing a referendum to be called as soon as the region is ready.

6. Powers - Will these be limited, token powers or will they give genuine strategic influence for the regions?

Liberal Democrats Would:

- The quangos taken over would be answerable to the region, not Whitehall.

- Powers on offer would be extensive and include a strategic role in economic development, transport, health, spatial planning (including the determining of new housing numbers), arts and culture, training, tourism, environmental protection & emergency planning.

7. Regional Variation of Powers- What scope to vary the nature of government according to the requirements and preferences of local people and the nature of the region?

Liberal Democrats Would:

- Set up a menu of strategic powers from which each region could choose to suit local ambitions and requirements.

- Regions would create their own blueprints on the structure through constitutional conventions though the executive would not be separately elected.

- Size would relate directly to the functions but would need to be large enough to be representative generally of the region and to be able to have sufficient members for scrutiny and opposition.

8. Funding - How will the new bodies raise the cash to do their work? Will the government enforce additional levies on council tax and leave quango funding streams outside their control?

Liberal Democrats Would:

- Give the regional authorities a bloc grant made up of the former quango direct grants with power to set own priorities within budget.

- Some limited tax raising powers related to activities of region.

- Regions would have no council tax powers - administrative costs to be covered by the bloc grant

- A region could opt for referendum on income tax powers at the creation of the authority or at a later date.

9. Involving the People - Will this be a truly new form of government with inclusion of local people at the centre of the way it does business? Or will it just be more of the same?

Liberal Democrats Would:

- See regional government as a totally new form of governance and each region would be expected to incorporate systems for engaging with the people such as citizen's juries, civic fora, consultation, family friendly working hours, electronic communications etc

10.Voting System - Will the regions properly reflect the range of opinions and aspirations of the people that live there?

Liberal Democrats Would:

- Insist on a proportional voting system.

- Elections would preferably be by STV (if AMS used, list system has to have about half the seats to make the assembly sufficiently representative)

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