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WALES CAMPAIGNS TO PROTECT LOCAL POWERS

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Welsh local government will start a new campaign next week to protect local government's interests under the new We...
Welsh local government will start a new campaign next week to protect local government's interests under the new Welsh Assembly.

The councils are expected to push for the forthcoming Devolution Bill to impose a duty on the Assembly to promote and foster local government, and for a legal barrier to prevent any loss of power from local authorities.

The Welsh Local Government Association will also seek to promote a vision of local government as custodian of local strategies to which all other agencies and quangos would be required to refer.

It will argue that the proposed new economic 'powerhouse', for example, should be legally required to give consideration to local economic strategies in its plans for any given area. Sandy Blair, chief executive of Newport CBC and chairman of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives in Wales, said the issue for councils was how to improve the lot of their citizens, 'not only by improving our own services, but by influencing the services provided by others.'

Representatives of Welsh councils have already held two meetings with the Welsh Office on the Bill, which is due to be published by the end of October and to go into committee before Christmas.

Bridgend CBC leader Jeff Jones said he was confident an Assembly would have a duty to promote and foster local government. A last minute change of heart in drafting the white paper meant this sense of legal duty was included in the Welsh language version but not the English (LGC, 12 September).

The closeness of the Welsh vote in favour of an Assembly will be reflected in local government's campaign tactics.

As one senior source put it, the potential fragility of the Devolution Bill means councils will not want to lobby for changes to the white paper which could cause political argument.

'On the other hand, the fragility gives us bargaining power that wouldn't have been there otherwise,' he said.

The WLGA is not expected to revisit its earlier campaign for the Assembly to be given law-making powers.

The close referendum vote, together with regional differences brought to the fore during the campaign, have also led to expectations that the role of regional committees within the Assembly will be clarified and strengthened in the Devolution Bill.

Vote warning

Local government has much to learn from the referendum vote on the Welsh Assembly, acting WLGA chairman Tom Middlehurst has warned.

'It worries me that so many people in Wales remain sceptical of the value of enhancing democracy,' he said.

'We need a crusade for democratic renewal in Wales which transforms the way all our institutions operate, including local authorities.'

It would be a crusade for openness, inclusivity and real public participation, he said.

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