Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Vision for Localism & Decentralisation in England

Message from Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP

Dear Cllr Andrew Dawson
Localism & Decentralisation in England
Today, William Hague has presented to Parliament a Command Paper on the implications of devolution for England. As well as setting out the Conservative Party’s support for English Votes on English laws, it outlines this Government’s achievements on localism and the Conservative Party’s stance on further decentralisation in England.

The Conservative Party embraces the Union of the United Kingdom and the continuing role of our national Parliament in Westminster as our law-making body. We back England’s traditional boroughs, towns, cities and counties, as opposed to Labour’s artificial regions. We endorse the tried and tested electoral system of First Past the Post. We embrace lower taxes and less red tape. We rally behind supporting enterprise and growth across the country. And we champion local democracy and local accountability, and the devolution of power from Europe and from Whitehall down to councils, and down further to neighbourhoods, parishes and individual taxpayers.

The full text of the Conservative Party’s route-map on localism is reproduced below.

“The Conservative position on further devolution within England is based upon the view that England is a great nation, proudly forming a constituent part of the union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We believe that the Westminster Parliament is, and should remain, England's law-making body.

However, we also believe that, without a local voice, communities are made weaker because social responsibility and civic involvement are inhibited; local communities are strongest when everyone has a free and fair say in the decisions that affect them. This is why Conservatives in the coalition government have worked with their coalition partners to deliver significant decentralisation of power and finance within England. But we believe that there is more to do.

The Conservative Party takes the view that, in the years before 2010, central and regional government across England too often undermined local democracy and allowed people too little say over decisions that directly affected them. We argue that power should be decentralised down to the lowest appropriate level – down from Europe, down from Whitehall, to councils, to community groups and to individual taxpayers: giving power to the people.

Therefore in the next Parliament we wish to continue with the empowerment of neighbourhoods and parishes in England, not least through a huge further increase in neighbourhood planning. The aim is to extend community rights and thereby mobilise what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons”, strengthening social and civic responsibility and building social capital – fostering the Big Society.

Conservatives believe that greater localism should be accompanied by greater local accountability, with democratic checks and balances to ensure the responsible use of greater local power. We will continue to support the tried and tested method of first past the post elections for the Westminster Parliament and for all levels of local council in England. But we believe that there should be greater use of direct democracy, such as allowing local people to hold local referendums on local issues. Conservatives also aim to extend and strengthen the transparency and accountability which the current Government has championed, and help support the press and public in holding local politicians to account.

In addition, we want to go further and deeper with the localist reforms that have taken place in England during this Parliament. This will include delivering more bespoke Growth Deals with local councils, including metropolitan mayors where locally supported, and working with Local Enterprise Partnerships and councils to promote jobs and growth. To save taxpayers’ money and improve front-line services, we propose to continue the drive to help local authorities join up different public services, taking forward projects such as Community Budgets, the Better Care Fund, joint working between the emergency services, and the Troubled Families programme.

Our view is that patterns of local government should reflect England’s local identities and traditions. We will champion England’s long-standing towns, boroughs, cities and counties, and will continue to oppose the imposition of artificial regional structures. We take the view that enabling locals to determine local structures locally will encourage civic and national pride across class, colour and creed – in our municipalities and neighbourhoods, in the nation of England and in the United Kingdom.

We strongly believe that localism must not be a way of imposing new taxes: the English taxpayer already pays too much tax. Instead, we wish to strengthen the fiscal incentives that councils have to support enterprise and growth – for example, by further extending the local retention of business rates. Following the course already set by the coalition government, in the next Parliament we will further reduce ring-fencing and ensure that councils are more self-sufficient – building on the fact that 70 per cent of council income is now raised locally.

Conservatives want all parts of England to enjoy prosperity and growth – north and south, shire and municipal, rural and urban. Rather than playing one part of England or Britain against another, we want to let local people in all parts of England keep the proceeds of local growth – thereby providing strong incentives for all local governments to work with local business to support jobs and improve quality of life locally.”

As we approach the general election and the final stage of this Parliament, I hope this presents a vision that the broad church of our Conservative & Unionist Party will welcome.

Yours truly,

Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government