Changing the Balance of Power between Westminster and English local government
Author: Clive Betts MP
Published on Apr 19, 2012
The Communities and Local Government Select Committee has produced two reports on the Balance of Power between Central and Local Government and on Localism. Unsurprisingly we found that Britain was one of the most centralised countries in Western Europe.
To develop a democracy where localities and communities have more say over their own affairs; where different needs are met with different solutions; and where new ideas and original thinking can flourish and then be taken up elsewhere, the powers and status of local government has to enhanced.
There is a need for councils to control more of their budget, for a change to the culture among politicians, the public and the media all of whom demand or expect Secretaries of State to be held accountable for everything , and ultimately we need to determine the constitutional relationship between Parliament , the Executive and elected councils.
One of the proposals to achieve consistency and ensure localist approaches was a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament to scrutinise all legislation and government proposals for localising or centralising intent. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has now agreed to develop a code setting out central/local government relationships which a joint committee could use as a benchmark to monitor against.
I would like to go further .The changes in Scotland and Wales already mean that decentralisation will not be symmetrical in the UK. A menu of optional powers and responsibilities could therefore be drawn up, along with the code, which local communities could choose from. This would be a system of requested rather than earned autonomy, the only requirement being that agreement was secured from voters in a referendum.
Such a vote would lock in devolution in a way which central government could always theoretically seek to reverse , but which in practice as with the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly powers no significant change could come about without a further vote from those affected. This would be real local democracy with people locally deciding what powers their elected representatives would exercise on their behalf.