UK council leaders unite in devolution call

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Councils in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have united to demand “urgent action” by whoever forms the next government to set out how powers will be devolved to local communities in its first Queen’s Speech.

In a joint-statement issued ahead of the General Election, the local government associations of the four countries of the United Kingdom, call on politicians to grasp “the opportunity to revive our local democratic systems”.

It is signed by Cllr David Sparks, Chair of the Local Government Association, Cllr Aaron Shotton, Deputy Leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, Cllr David O’Neill, President of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and Cllr Dermot Curran, President of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association.

The leaders call on whoever forms the next government to ensure that: 

• Legislation in the first Queen Speech (including the Scotland Bill, the Wales Bill and an English Devolution Bill) is framed to empower local communities through councils, embeds the principle of subsidiarity and guarantees the devolution of powers beyond Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont;

• The European Charter of Local Self-Government, which sets out the principles of local democracy and was signed by the United Kingdom in 1997, forms part of our new constitutional settlement;

• Any future Constitutional Convention on the future of the governance of the United Kingdom should guarantee seats around the table for the leaders of the four associations to ensure that the voices of local communities are heard.

As the elected voice of communities across the UK, the four leaders add: 

“Strong local democracy and empowered communities will be a force for good. 

“As we approach the election of a new Parliament, the time for talking has ended. The new government will be given the responsibility of defining a new settlement for the communities of the United Kingdom. We have the opportunity to shape history and strengthen our nation. 

“We made representations to William Hague’s Cabinet Committee in London and the Smith Commission in Edinburgh. Both reports called for a major shift in power and a revival of local decision-making. National parties and local communities in every part of our nation have also signalled a desire for change. 

“We are very clear that it is time to move away from an expensive, centralised approach which means that governments in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh or London try to second guess what is best for localities. Any settlement which does not extend beyond Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont will not be sustainable.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. The four associations have also set out the three guiding principles in the devolution debate which unite them and the communities they represent across the UK. 

• We must establish a principle of subsidiarity. The presumption that power is transferred to the level of government closest to the people. We recognise that there is a case for some powers to rest nationally. However, this should only happen when there is an explicit demonstration the activity being delivered nationally will result in better outcomes. We want to see real momentum behind the devolution of powers beyond Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont to local government and to local communities. 

• We want the legal position of local government to be secured and enhanced. At the moment, local government is entirely a creature of devolved authority from “higher” bodies. Our communities want to be able to make local decisions for themselves. We need to consider a defined set of powers and responsibilities which sets out what local government can support at the local level so that we can design public services which are most appropriate to local need. 

• We want greater fiscal autonomy for local government. Our centralised system of public finance is inefficient and stymies economic growth. We are ready for greater responsibility for funding at a local level to improve public services and ensure that local residents and business see how their money is used. 

2. The UK government signed the Council of Europe’s Charter of Local Self-Government in June 1997, and the Charter was ratified by the UK in 1998. It commits the ratifying member states to guaranteeing the political, administrative and financial independence of local authorities. It provides that the principle of local self-government shall be recognised in domestic legislation and, where practicable, in the constitution. Local authorities are to be elected by universal suffrage, and it is the earliest legal instrument to set out the principle of subsidiarity.

3. A national poll by the LGA revealed almost two-thirds (64 per cent) said a manifesto commitment to shift power and funding for public services from Westminster to their local community would be important in enticing 18-24-year-olds out to the ballot box on May 7- http://www.local.gov.uk/web/guest/media-releases/-/journal_content/56/10180/7166749/NEWS 

ENDS

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