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UK council leaders unite in call for devolution talks

Council leaders across the UK have come together calling for an ‘urgent’ meeting with the government to set out a deal on devolution for their communities. 

In a letter sent to William Hague, chair of the Cabinet Committee looking at devolved powers, following the Scottish independence referendum, the local government associations of England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, which represent councils of all political parties, have thrown down the gauntlet to government to “take a bold step towards a new system of government”. 

They argue that the referendum on Scottish independence has ‘shown that public trust in the old ways of central control has been shattered beyond repair’ and ‘too many decisions that affect local communities are centralised in Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont’. 

Local government leaders add that the Cabinet Committee examining devolved powers has a unique opportunity to refresh local democracy and empower local communities right across the UK. 

The letter calls on government to urgently address three key principles in the devolution debate by: 

  • Establishing a principle of subsidiarity, which would ensure that power is transferred to the level of government closest to the people. 
  • Securing and enhancing the legal position of local government. This would mean a defined set of powers and responsibilities which set out what local government can support at the local level so that public services can be designed around local need. 
  • Providing greater fiscal autonomy for local government. The current centralised system of public finance is inefficient and stymies economic growth. Greater responsibility for funding at a local level would improve public services and ensure that local residents and business see how their money is used. 

The letter, which has also been sent to the Smith Commission in Scotland, was signed by Cllr David Sparks, chair of the Local Government Association; Cllr David O'Neill, president of Convention Of Scottish Local Authorities; Cllr Bob Wellington, leader of the Welsh Local Government Association; and Cllr Dermot Curran, president of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association. 

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