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29.01.13

Committee calls for independent local government

Local government needs more autonomy and more fiscal powers, according to Parliament’s Political and Constitutional Reform Committee.

Its new report suggests that local government should be more independent of central government, and able to exercise a range of tax-raising powers to achieve the full potential of localism.

The committee developed a code for relations between central and local government, intended to replace the estimated 1,293 duties currently imposed on councils.

This code recommends how Government can give local authorites the ability to better shape services to the needs of local people. It shows how devolution to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland has been successful, leaving England as the “odd one out”.

The report also states that power and finance must go together, and Government must consider giving local authorities a share of the existing income tax take and freeing them to raise additional revenue, with consent of their electorates.

Local government currently lacks some basic constitutional protections, and central government should examine how to afford a stronger constitutional status to councils.

Graham Allen MP, chair of the committee, said: “The Committee's draft code would clarify at what level of government power and accountability lie and provide a framework within which local councils would have the freedom to meet local needs and priorities.

“The code would give local councils in England greater autonomy over their financial affairs, allowing them to plan long-term investment for their local communities and providing the spur to restart economic growth. There is still much more we can do to set local government free.

“Local government in England could be the perfect vehicle for English devolution, as it would involve no further layers of elected politicians, no more taxation, and councillors have close links to their local areas.”

Jules Pipe, chair of London Councils, which represents 32 London boroughs and the City of London, welcomed the report and said: “It’s time for central government to realise they can’t control everything. Local councillors need to be free to get on with the job serving the communities that elect them.”

Director of Unlock Democracy Peter Facey said: “Despite the Government’s steps towards localism, Whitehall continues to have the whip hand, with local authorities bound by hundreds of rules and regulations.

“In common with his predecessors, the current Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government continues to harangue and micromanage councils in areas such as how they should organise bin collection.

“With devolution continuing to evolve for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, England needs to stop being the Cinderella State.”

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