Stockton's Infinity Bridge

Committee reports on relationship between central and local government

29 January 2013

The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, chaired by Graham Allen MP, has published a report (29 January) on its Inquiry into the issues and prospects for a new relationship between central and local government.

The report concludes that the balance of power is skewed in favour of central government and needs to be addressed to give councils greater ability to shape their services to meet local people's needs. The Committee believes that local government should be constitutionally independent of central government and with its own source of revenue and financial freedoms, subject to accountability to the local community. The Committee also points out that the devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has been successful and is continuing to evolve; there is no reason why English local government should not be capable of using similar powers to those now exercised by the devolved administrations.

As part of its Inquiry, the Committee has considered, and now published, a draft code for relations between central and local government which is intended to establish a settled constitutional role for local government as well as replacing the estimated 1300 specific duties to which local government is subject. This is intended as a first step in codifying the relationship rather than a ‘finished product'. The Committee proposes to continue the dialogue that it has begun with local government and to extend this, over the next year or so, to central government at political and official level, including urging party leaders to consider the long-term constitutional future of local government as part of their mid-term ‘refresh'.

ANEC has engaged in the Committee's work to explore the issues around codifying the relationship and made a submission to the Inquiry supporting the principle of a code that would establish the position of local government within the constitution and enable it to operate as a co-equal partner with central government. ANEC's submission noted the relatively centralised constitutional position of English local government compared with more devolved posers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and that the current economic position made it all the more important to pursue this agenda. In a paragraph quoted in the Committee's report, ANEC said:

"If, as seems likely, local authorities are going to be subject to a further round of cuts in the next spending review, it is imperative that they should be allowed to be innovative and creative in working out their own solutions as to how they are going to continue to meet demands for services in a changed financial climate".

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