|We need to revitalise municipal government
||[Jan. 18th, 2010|12:04 pm]
Cities are the main centres for population and economic activity as well as being infrastructure hubs. They contain, particularly in London, great concentrations of wealth but also great poverty. If the British economy is to recover and flourish, cities must lead the way.|
The Liberal Democrats have experience of running some of Britain’s big cities: Sheffield, Newcastle, Liverpool, Hull, Cardiff, Bristol and Portsmouth and are in partnership with other parties in Birmingham, Leeds and Edinburgh. City Government requires ambition and drive to promote regeneration combined with efficient service delivery and tight control of services.
We want to see less central control and a bigger role for local government. The de-nationalisation of business rates is a key first step. At the moment, British cities only raise 20% of their revenue locally when the OECD average is 50%. Most central government supervisory and control functions should be scrapped.
RDAs have largely failed and waste large sums. Where they work well and have local support, as in the North East and Yorkshire, they should remain albeit refocused. Others should be scrapped with the more valuable activities devolved to local government or City regions, with big savings overall.
City councils cannot, with limited resources, be much more than catalysts. But good councils can already help local businesses through their procurement and payment practices; advise individuals; help small companies take up rate relief and some are pioneering local banking and mutuals.
They have a key role in housing although we have largely passed through the era of big council estates and comprehensive redevelopment. The future will involve the refurbishment of empty or under occupied property for social letting; the acquisition of unsold properties from developers and a revival of council housing reflecting current ideas on environmental and planning standards.
Today’s municipal government is but a pale shadow of what was the case before successive centralising national governments drained the life from it. The process must now be reversed.