Saturday, 8 March 2014

Council of Europe recommends more powers for English local authorities

Councils in England should have more powers devolved to them, according to a new review into the state of local government.
The Council of Europe regularly reports on the state of local and regional democracy in the EU's member states. A delegation visited twice last year in only the second-ever review of the UK, the first taking place in 1998.

Published today, its report ‘Local and regional democracy in the United Kingdom' recommends greater devolution of powers to local government, increased tax-raising powers for councils and a fairer funding settlement for English local authorities.

The report concludes:
·         The ability of councils to provide "essential public services, quality health and social care and effective and adequate community services and facilities, especially to the growing number of older people" is under huge pressure following austerity measures.
·         It recommends devolution of powers to councils as "the ability of local authorities to discharge their responsibilities sometimes appears to be highly restricted by central government".
·         Despite significant funding reductions themselves, councils in Wales and Scotland are "better off financially than their English counterparts". The complex formula for distribution of central government funding produces "considerable uncertainty and effects of unequal treatment".
·         A diversified base of local revenue is an "urgent necessity" with council tax "limited by central or devolved governments, due to the referendum obligation" while "all rates are decided by government and funding is still dominated by central government grants".

Sir Merrick Cockell, LGA Chairman, said:
"This report recognises the huge challenge facing public services with councils having to find £20 billion worth of savings by the end of this current Parliament. The LGA has highlighted the impact this will have on essential services and the Government has listened by not making an additional reduction to local government funding in 2014/15.
"We feel this review is a fair reflection on the current pressures facing local government. The current model for financing and running local government needs to change and adapt to today's circumstances and it is important that local and central government works together to address these issues and takes these recommendations forward.
"Devolution of decision-making and tax-raising powers to local areas is needed to help save money and improve services and English communities need to be given the same significant say over everything from health services to public transport as they do across the border in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
"Our European counterparts also identified the urgent need for a fair and equitable distribution of public money across the United Kingdom. The 34-year-old Barnett Formula is short-changing English communities by as much as £4.1 billion a year and a needs-based model is needed for a fairer deal.
"When the delegation returns to the UK in five years, I hope these vital reforms will be in full force and local government will be looking ahead to the future with renewed hope."

This is a press release from the Local Government Association, which is a cross party grouping of local authorities, Chaired by a Tory. It shows the depth of feeling in local government about lack of funding under the ConDem government.

No comments: