Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
LGA demands more power for England
7 March, 2014 | By Marino Donati
The LGA is calling for greater devolution of powers to English councils after a European report concluded that local authorities in Wales and Scotland were better off.
The report from the Council of Europe, Local and Regional Democracy in the United Kingdom, expressed concern about “the financial resources of local authorities, their limited taxing powers and their dependence on government grants”.
It concluded: “Despite significant cuts, in Wales and Scotland local authorities are (still) better off financially than their English counterparts, but lacking diversity of local finances is a concern also there.”
The report said that “ambiguities” around the lack of recognition of the right to local self-government in the law beyond the general powers granted by the Localism Act 2011, also needed to be addressed.
It recommended the UK government reduce the financial burden on local authorities from budget cuts. It also called for better consultation arrangements for local government for “taking into account the necessity or opportunity for local authorities to consult their local population”.
LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell (Con) said that English councils were being “short changed” and called for the current model for the financing and running of local government to change.
He said: “Devolution of decision-making and tax-raising powers to local areas is needed to help save money and improve services and English communities need to be given the same significant say over everything from health services to public transport as they do across the border in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“Our European counterparts also identified the urgent need for a fair and equitable distribution of public money across the United Kingdom, The 34-year-old Barnett Formula is short changing English communities by as much as £4.1bn a year and a needs-based model is needed for a fairer deal.”
The report also raised concern about councils’ ability to meet international obligations. It said: “A fundamental question in relation to Article 9 of the Charter [European Charter of Local Self-Government] is whether local government will have adequate (own) financial resources and whether these are commensurate with its functions.”
The Council of Europe regularly reports on the state of local and regional democracy in the EU’s member states. Its local government arm, the Congress, is responsible for the monitoring of local democracy in member states by assessing the application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which was adopted in 1985 and ratified by the UK in 1998.
Responding to the report, local government minister Brandon Lewis said: “The coalition government has delivered a fair settlement to every part of the country – north and south, rural and urban, metropolitan and shire. We have given councils new financial flexibilities, such as the local retention of business rates and scrapped top-down interfering quangos.”