Extracts from the message:
'I want us to help you in three ways. Firstly, we will sweep away the regional government which Labour has imposed and no one wanted and return powers to locals councils. We will also sweep away Labour's 'command and control' inspection and audit regimes which add so much to the council taxpayer's bill. Thirdly, we are going to help local people fight to keep their local police forces and local councils - we will stand up to Labour's plans for regionalisation and restructuring. David Miliband talked about double devolution, as far as I can see this is more like double deception - they want to take away your police force and take away local councils and replace them with remote bodies that nobody wants. We would change all that.
'I also want to raise the national standing of the Conservative Party by sweeping away misconceptions and preconceptions which have held the party back. We want to demonstrate that modern compassionate Conservatives are in touch with people and their aspirations.
'We need to be positive, constructive and optimistic about the future. Local government has a huge role to play. Unlike me and the Shadow Cabinet, many of you are already in power, and can be pioneers for the change we want to see.'
Prescott's determination for an 'England of Regions'
Borough councils to lose law and order role as more power sucked upwards
Speaking at the Conservative Local Government Conference in Daventry today, Caroline Spelman, Shadow Secretary for Local Government, highlighted the destructive interference in local government by Labour. Mrs Spelman pointed to new evidence of the Government's plans to abolish shire local government and to transfer council, fire and policing responsibilities towards a distant regional level.
The Government's new plans expose Labour's 'stealth' agenda both to abolish shire local government and to transfer council, fire and policing responsibilities towards a distant regional level. The proposals were quietly slipped out at the end of January, on the same day that the Government published its Police & Justice Bill.
The proposals recommend that in shire areas, district/borough councils no longer play the lead role in the cross-agency 'Crime &Disorder Reduction Partnerships', despite the fact that these councils are responsible for licensing, environmental health, planning enforcement and CCTV. This is a clear indication that the Government's end goal is to scrap the district tier of local government altogether.
Caroline Spelman said:
'Step by step, this Government is leaching power away from local people towards unelected regional bureaucrats. Despite the resounding 'no' to regional government in the North East referendum, regionalisation continues by stealth.
'Strategic Health Authorities, Ambulance Trusts, Fire Control Rooms, Police Forces are all undergoing expensive and wasteful regional restructuring. England's historic boroughs and counties are next.
'This latest scheme to sideline the important role of borough councils in helping cut crime is further proof that Labour intend to consign England's historic boroughs to the scrap heap in their pursuit of regional police, regional fire and regional authorities.
'John Prescott is determined to deliver by statue what he couldn't deliver by the ballot box - an England of regions, answerable to Whitehall.'
SCRAPPING BOROUGH & DISTRICT COUNCILS' ROLE IN REDUCING CRIME & DISORDER
Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships were created in 1998, for local authorities to work with the police, fire and health services to tackle crime and disorder. In two-tier local government areas, district/borough councils take the lead.
The Home Office quietly published a review of these Partnerships on 25 January 2006.
full report: http:www.crimereduction.gov.uk/partnerships60.doc
It advocates cuts in the numbers of these Partnerships and restructure them, sidelining the role of district/borough councils, hinting at the Government's plans for unitary local government.
'The first thing that we wish to do is to take a much more active role in encouraging CDRP mergers' (para 2.10).
'Increasing the number of merged CDRPs will also facilitate greater co-terminosity across agency boundaries, particularly with the Basic Command Unit structure that operates within police force areas and with Primary Care Trusts which are increasingly being aligned with county council boundaries in two-tier areas' (para 2.11).
'We will, however, be asking the Government Offices for the Regions (GOs) to work with local partnerships to assess the case for mergers in their areas, against some criteria that we will be developing over the coming months. In taking this work forward, we will be working closely with ODPM as well as with regional and local partners to ensure that we do not end up with merged CDRP boundaries which are out of step with the likely future structure of local government itself' (para 2.12)
'The review team considered this particular difficulty, and came up with a solution for two-tier areas based on the idea ofseparating the strategic responsibilities of CDRPs from those relating to operational delivery, placing the former at the county level... In two-tier local authority areas, this operational function may need to be carried out at sub-county level with groups of district CDRPs working together or at county level depending on the nature of the priority to be addressed. For example, a thematic group may be set up at county level to provide a strategic approach to tackling incidents of domestic violence across the whole area' (para 2.14).
'No decisions have been taken about whether or not in some way to go for a reorganisation of the two-tier structure in local government but consideration of local government structures is part of this wider debate about governance in the 21st century. The Government has sought views on whether there is a need for single tier local government; any change in local government structure will follow and need to be consistent with the changes that are currently being discussed in health and community safety' (para 2.3).
LABOUR's STEALTH PLANS TO ABOLISH THE SHIRES
Labour's 2005 manifesto hinted at another bout of local government restructuring and the transfer of more power to the unelected regional assemblies: 'We will ensure that councils are organised in the most effective way to lead and support local partnerships' 'we will devolve further responsibility to existing regional bodies in relation to planning, house, economic development and transport' (Labour Party, Britain forward not back, pp.107-108).
In an ODPM press release on 2 February 2006, the Government claimed, 'Ministers have taken no decisions about whether or not in some way to go for reorganisation of the two tier structure'.
Yet in a leaked presentation from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, on the 'local government debate', the Government's plans for imposing unitary local government across England's 34 counties are outlined. District/boroughs are described as a 'luxury' (p.5). Areas like Hertfordshire and Devon with 535 and 391 councillors respectively, are compared to the likes of unitary Birmingham and Leeds with 120 and 99 councillors. This suggests that the number of Conservative councillors in the predominantly rural/suburban shires could be slashed, in an effort to decimate the number of Conservative activists.
Presentation available online at
http:www.conservatives.com/pdf/odpm-unitary.pdf (PDF file).
William Hague raised the issue of local government restructuring at Prime Minister's Questions on 16 February.
POLICE FORCE REGIONALISATION
The Government is already moving ahead with plans to introduce regional police forces across England & Wales. The Association of Chief Police Officers has estimated the costs of mergers to be over£525 million across England and Wales, an average of£12.5 million per force. The Government is providing just£125 million, less than a quarter of the funding necessary, to pay for this.
This means that over£400 million must be found by police authorities to finance amalgamations. Police authorities have pointed out that with a 2006-07 grant increase less than the increase in costs for inflation, pensions and nominal pay increases, the financial climate is already tight.
Assuming that police authorities do not cut service provision, the average police precept would rise by 21 per cent, meaning rises of between£15 and£37 on council tax bills on a Band D property - on top of increases already planned.
The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, announced the Government's controversial plans to regionalise the police forces in England and Wales in November 2005.
PRIMARY CARE TRUSTS & STRATEGIC HEALTH AUTHORITIES REGIONALISATION
In December 2005, the Department of Health published its plans to reduce the number of Primary Care Trusts to a minimum of 115, and to reduce the number of Strategic Health Authorities to between nine and eleven - again based on Government Office of the Region lines (DH, Commissioning a patient-led NHS update, 1 December 2005). Consultation on this reorganisation is currently ongoing.
The cross-party Commons Health Select Committee has concluded that the PCT plans are incoherent, that restructuring would require massive effort of an organisation recovering from the last reorganisation three years ago, and that the financial benefits have been over-estimated.
AMBULANCE SERVICES REGIONALISATION
Also in December 2005, the Department of Health began consultation to cut the number of NHS Ambulance Trusts from 31 to 11, partly aligned with the Government Office of the Regions boundaries. The consultation will close on 22 March 2006 (DH, Configuration of ambulance trusts in England, 14 December 2005).
FIRE SERVICE REGIONALISATION
Following the Government's Fire & Rescue Services Act 2004, all local fire authorities in England have been allocated to one of the nine Government Office regions, and have been required to form a Regional Management Board. The Government originally planned that in the event of an elected regional assembly being established, these Management Boards would become regional fire authorities. The Government has told the Management Boards to scrap their existing local control rooms and create a single regional control room in each region.