Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
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Foundations for 'New Era of Devolution' set
Councils and communities received confirmation today of a new era of greater power and influence to tackle the issues they care about with less Whitehall control as the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act received Royal Assent.
Welcoming the new Act Local Government Minister John Healey declared today as D-day for devolution confirming that new opportunities for local action will be in place within six months, but adding that this was just the beginning.
The Act opens the door to implementing councils' proposals for unitary status. This is an opportunity to create new flagship authorities which can lead the way on meeting today's challenges of promoting prosperity, empowering citizens and communities and modernising local service delivery.
Mr Healey also pledged new measures on local petition powers, improving representation, greater local action to tackle worklessness, and a concordat enshrining a more mature relationship between central and local government by the end of this year. He will set out a detailed Local Government White Paper Implementation Plan later this week.
The Act seals the framework for new devolutionary measures to take effect from next year when:
* Local Area Agreements will have a statutory basis and there will be a formal framework for co-operation with local partners;
* there will be a new unringfenced area based grant to provide local authorities and their partners with greater flexibility in the use of funding from central government;
* overview and scrutiny committees will have new powers to review and scrutinise the actions of key local public service providers, including the Environment Agency, Learning and Skills Council etc;
* principal local authorities will have devolved powers to undertake community governance reviews, and the possibility, as elsewhere in England, to set up parish councils in London;
* Councillors will be able to raise issues of local concern with overview and scrutiny committees as part of expanding Councillor Calls for Action to cover all local government services;
* Councils will be able to make certain byelaws and enforce them with fixed penalty notices without agreement from central Government.
From April 2009:
* Proposals by councils to move to unitary status improving services and value for money in those areas will be implemented (subject to formal decisions at the end of this year);
* Local authorities will have a new duty to involve local people in local services and policies.
John Healey said:
"When we announced the White Paper there were people in central and local government who thought it could not be done. But in just one year we have already established a new era where Government is putting greater trust in local councils who in turn can strengthen democracy by engaging local people.
"We have turned the rhetoric of devolution into reality but this is just the beginning, there will be no letting up of our drive to hand power to councils and communities where it can make a positive difference to people's lives.
"The Act serves as a key step towards the devolutionary measures set out in the Prime Minister's Governance of Britain Green Paper, which include the establishment of citizens' juries, and powers of redress to scrutinise and improve the delivery of local services. It will help bring accountability and decision-making more within people's reach.
"Central and local government must seize this opportunity to set long term foundations for greater localism not as an end in itself, but because of better services and healthier democracy that can be achieved."
The Act builds on a year of rapid delivery since the Local Government White Paper began a radical drive to empower councils and communities including:
- Slashing Whitehall controls on local councils from 1200 to just 198 from April 2008 so that they can focus on local priorities agreed with their community.
- Abolishing mandatory Whitehall targets (except statutory children's targets) in new Local Area Agreements.
- Piloting participatory budgeting in ten areas where local people get to discuss and vote on how public money should benefit their communities
- Creating a network of 18 local authorities acting as empowerment champions to spearhead a reinvigoration of local democracy
- Establishing 20 community ownership pilot areas to hand over ownership of run down schools, libraries and pubs to community groups to provide vital local services.
- The sub-national review of economic development and regeneration which paves the way for greater local action on jobs and growth, simplified single regional strategies on jobs, investment, housing and planning, and the establishment of sub-regional authorities.
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