Jonathan Werran 29 January 2013

Give local government its independence, urge MPs

Local government should have its independence from Whitehall control enshrined in law, to deliver a devolution deal for England - a group of MPs has recommended.

A report issued today by the political and constitutional reform committee calls for local government to receive statutory protection from central government interference through a code embedded in the 1911 Parliament act.

According to the MPs, the proposals could enable devolution for England without the need for separate regional assemblies or national parliament but through local councils.

English councils should also be offered financial independence in a ‘least change-maximum impact’ manner by having a proportion of income tax assigned to them – following the precedent now set in Scotland and being considered for Wales by the Silk Commission.

Additionally, independent councils should be allowed to raise additional funds provided they gained local consent.

Chair of the political and constitutional reform Committee, Graham Allen said such financial powers, combined with accountability and transparency checks, would give English councils the power to do what they wanted as long as it’s legal

Allen told The MJ: ‘By codifying the rights of local government to be an independent entity, you put a wall, a bulwark a fortress around the rights of local government.’

‘Currently the government are going with the flow with the rhetoric of localism and we’re just taking it one more logical step,’ Mr Allen explained.

‘We’re on plateau. You either take the next step or you wind-up backwards and the default position is always the man in Whitehall knows best,’ he added.

Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: ‘Councils have the skills, confidence and ambition to lead our communities, but to see the true benefits of local decision making, particularly around creating the right environment for stimulating economic growth, we need the freedom to make independent decisions about local issues.

‘The LGA has worked closely with the committee to develop the foundations for a more grown up relationship between central and local government, and we back the report’s recommendation to move away from the 1,293 existing duties imposed on councils and replace them with a more balanced relationship between Whitehall and town halls.’

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