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WELSH LOCAL GOVERNMENT WELCOMES ASSEMBLY

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The new Welsh Assembly provides an unrivalled opportunity to finally bring the all-powerful quangos under democrati...
The new Welsh Assembly provides an unrivalled opportunity to finally bring the all-powerful quangos under democratic control, says the Welsh Local Government Association in a major report to be published next Tuesday.

Whether the boards of the existing quangos are abolished or merely brought under the Assembly's control, local government expects that they will in future be required to work in partnerships led by each of the 22 local authorities, says the report.

It points out that democratic local government is the only means by which communities can develop their leadership over the forces that shape their communities.

The report puts forward practical proposals to make community leadership a reality. It requires a massive decentralisation of control from central to local government which it describes as a means of radically enlivening democracy in Wales.

'This is the way in which the quangos of Wales can be converted from their dominance over Wales into service for Wales - allowing local people real influence over their local economy and environment, their housing markets, their health service, and their opportunities for education and training.'

For a start, the report urges the government to abolish Tai Cymru in the forthcoming Devolution Bill and transfer its powers of financing and monitoring housing associations to local authorities. This would enhance local housing strategies.

With regard to health, the WLGA says there are areas in Wales where poor health is a distinguishing feature. Health care at present is split between five health authorities, 20 health trusts, the Common Health Services Authority, Health Promotion Wales and various advisory bodies.

Because of their involvement in major services such as environmental protection, ensuring quality housing, leisure services, transportation and traffic managment, education, trading standards, child care and community care, local authorities have a vital contribution to make to the health of the Welsh people. The Assembly needs to recognise that role.

On local government finance, the WLGA says the present system is in a mess because of the concentration of power with the secretary of state. This centralisation is undermining local democracy in that it severely restricts local choice and confuses accountability for decision making. Many of these powers will be transferred to the Assembly

The WLGA is giving notice to both the government and the Assembly that it wants to engage in a review of the priority given to financing local authorities. 'We are of the view that many of the objectives of government in Wales would be more effectively met by giving a high priority to expenditure by local authorities. There is an urgent need to review the distribution of finance between local authorities to take fuller account of local needs.'

Reaffirming Welsh local government's support for the Assembly, Harry Jones, Leader of the WLGA and chairman of the group which wrote the report, said: 'The Assembly will empower the people of Wales in their communities. We need to breathe new life into democratic politics.

'If we do not succeed in this important goal,' he warned, 'alienation, disaffection and deeply anti-social behaviour patterns will increasingly scar our communities.'

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