Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A new localism

David Cameron today announced a Green paper outlining Conservative policies for local government if they win the next General Election. The key theme is about returning power back to local people as opposed to the current system where local government is frequently just a branch office of national government, controlled by endless streams of dictats from on high. I am particularly encouraged by the plans to abolish centrally imposed housing targets, giving Councils more power to control their own destiny and allowing them to benefit from measures that strengthen the local economy.

Here are the main ideas - the full paper is available on conservatives.com:

Strong local economies
• Abolishing all regional planning and housing powers exercised by regional government, returning powers and discretion back to local councils.
• Creating bottom-up incentives for house building, by allowing you to keep the increase in council tax revenues from new homes, rather than it being equalised away by Whitehall.
• Allowing councils to establish their own local enterprise partnerships to take over the economic development functions and funding of the Regional Development Agencies.
• Giving a real incentive for councils to promote local economic growth, by allowing you to keep the uplift in business rate revenues.
• Giving local authorities a new discretionary power to levy business rate discounts, allowing you to help local shops and services (for example, rural pubs, or post offices).
• Increase the freedom of your council to act in the best interests of residents, by giving councils a general power of competence.
Vibrant local democracy
• Letting councils choose their own organisational structure, such as returning to the Committee system if you wish.
• But building on the success of the London Mayor, giving citizens in the large cities of Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Wakefield, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham, Newcastle upon Tyne, with the opportunity to choose whether to have an elected mayor, through a mayoral referendums. The referendums would take place on the same day to ignite a national public debate.
• Abolishing Comprehensive Area Assessment – which looks to be just as burdensome as its predecessor, and further curtailing the number of central targets imposed on councils.
• Empowering citizens, not Whitehall, to ensure value for money by requiring more detailed information on local (and central) government expenditure to be published online.
• Continuing the work of the Lifting the Burdens Task Force to identify unnecessary burdens, and putting its recommendations into practice.
• Ending all forced unitary amalgamations of local authorities which have not already gone ahead – such as cancelling those planned in Norfolk, Suffolk and Devon.
• Abolishing Labour’s new Infrastructure Planning Commission quango.
• Scrapping the Standards Board and repealing the flawed ‘pre-determination’ rules that prevent councillors from standing up for constituents’ views on local issues.
• Abandoning plans to regionalise local fire services, while providing new measures to enhance resilience in the case of a national emergency.
Gordon Brown’s target-driven, top-down government has hindered strong local economies and discouraged civic pride. We will bring councillors and their constituents closer to the levers of power. This will start to restore the trust that has been lost in our political system under Labour.

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