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TORY PLAN FALLS SHORT ON DEVOLUTION DETAIL

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Council role unclear in paper...
Council role unclear in paper

By Nick Golding

The Conservatives have endorsed a major devolution of control over public services, but it is unclear whether they intend to empower councils.

In a broad indication of the party's direction under David Cameron, its public service improvement policy group has called for removal of central constraints on public servants.

Its Wellbeing of the nation report also recommends more freedom for schools, parents, neighbourhood groups and service users.

Oliver Letwin, chairman of the party's policy review, said the paper was an 'unambiguous commitment' to the growth of public services and a 'strengthened commitment to local solutions'.

The interim findings will feed into a final set of recommendations to guide party policy, due to appear next year.

However, in many areas the document raises more questions than answers, not least with regard to the role of local government. It asks whether councils should have a strategic role in co-ordinating social services development and how far central and regional control over planning over social housing should be devolved.

The group's co-chair Baroness Perry denied local government was being bypassed.

She said: 'Good local authorities already involve themselves with local communities.

'There doesn't have to be a new [neighbourhood] structure. I think there's a greater argument for encouraging authorities to use the informal structures of the community.'

The report endorses Labour's schools white paper vision with councils taking a relatively minimal role with responsibility for special needs, transport and admissions appeals.

Commenting on scrutiny of schools, she said: 'The local authority needs to know a little less and central government a little less than that.'

Tories ask

>> Should local authorities have a legitimate, strategic role in co-ordinating long-term [social care] capacity and development?

>> What would be the role of the [council] chief education officer be in a devolved system?

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