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Time to change the balance of power

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MPs’ dubious expenses and the balance of power between central and local government may not seem to have much in common.

And in the wake of the Westminster revelations, local government should be prepared for a fishing expedition into its own members’ expenses. However, links exist between the expenses row and the relationship between local and central government.

The centralising trend means that MPs have increasingly taken on the kind of case work that used to be the preserve of local members, helping to fuel the explosion in the sums needed to run their offices.

This week, largely submerged by the furore over Speaker Michael Martin’s resignation, the communities and local government select committee published what could be a landmark report on the balance of power between councils and Whitehall.

Local government must make sure that it is placed to seize any opportunities

David Blackman, acting editor

Hidden among the recommendations are some of the seeds for a new settlement, which may help to restore our democracy back to health.

The committee’s support for a fundamental shift in the balance of power between central and local government will earn widespread plaudits in town halls.

But the committee, which wrote its report long before the expenses row engulfed Westminster, also chides the
sector for a lack of ambition, arguing for a culture change in the way it approaches Whitehall.

It is clear that a thorough reform of Parliament is needed.

Cutting the number of MPs is one of the options being considered by the Conservatives. Such a move would have
implications for the volume of work carried out by Parliament, which too frequently strays into local matters, as the select committee points out.

A whole new constitutional settlement may be imminent. Local government must make sure that it is placed to seize any opportunities that such a shake-up brings.

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