Yesterday the Conservative Party launched its Local Government “green paper” entitled “Control Shift – Returning Power to Local Communities“.
Key points include (for a full list – see LGA Briefing):
• Discretionary power to levy business rate discounts and firms given power to support/stop increases in local business rates through local referenda.
• New relationship between local and central government (including power of general competence).
• Local referenda on ‘excessive’ council tax increases.
• Legislate for referenda on directly elected mayors in 12 major cities. (Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield Bradford, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Wakefield, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham, Newcastle upon Tyne)
• Directly elected police commissioners. Giving local people more power over local spending priorities
Richard Kemp – who leads the LGA Liberal Democrat Goup commented on the proposals:
“Tories right for Direction but woefully lacking in substance”
The Leader of the Liberal Democrats in local government, Cllr Richard Kemp has welcomed the direction of the Tory proposals for local government, but has cited four major concerns.
“This is a wholesale repudiation of the Thatcher and Major governments which stripped councils of their power and finance and made them into puppets of central government, but the plans lack substance in 4 areas”.
1. They do nothing to correct the imbalance between central and local funding. Whilst central government supplies up to 80% of the money spent by local government they will continue to call the tune asserting national priorities over local ones. They have similarly chickened out of tackling the way we raise money locally by keeping in place the grossly unfair Council Tax whilst we would propose a fair local income tax.
2. They have learned nothing about local mayors. Some Mayors, and of course our own in Watford, have been successful. And where people decide that they want a mayor they already have the right to elect one. But of the 12 elected mayoral systems in England two are in deep trouble with Stoke already voting to end their mayoral system. If the same proportion of councils generally were in trouble there would be aid teams outside 38 Town Halls today.
3. They have learned nothing about regionalism. They are, of course, right to rail against the bureaucracies of unelected regional government. But to suggest that employment, housing, transport and planning matters stop at the boundary of each council is ludicrous. Councils must and do work together and should be empowered themselves to develop sub regional and regional frameworks.
4. Proposals for elected commissioners for the Police are deeply scary. Most people believe that the head of the Police should be a serving and experienced police officer. Although the green paper does not define what an elected commissioner would do there would be no point in having such a position if that person were unable to radically change policing policy and operational policing activity.
Cllr Kemp added: “In these proposals the Tory MPs are clearly not listening to their own councillors who would support many of these points especially the one about police commissioners. In particular they have shown that they know little about urban government with many major urban councils like Liverpool. Sheffield and Newcastle being entirely Tory Free Zones.”