27 June 2008
Sir Michael Lyons has said the concordat between central and local government, signed last year, falls short of the constitutional settlement proposed in his report on the future of local government.
Lyons said the Central-Local Concordat contained some very important components but was a diluted version of his proposal. He was speaking at the first of two evidence hearings that will help set the parameters of an inquiry by the communities and local government select committee on the balance of power.
'The concordat that has been signed goes nowhere near as far as the constitutional settlement that I was asking for,' he said.
'The heart of the issue is not so much what the two areas are best at, but what does central government believe it is responsible for doing – whether it does it well or not – and clarity on if it will fund that and is accountable for it.'
Facing questions about his inquiry, Lyons defended its wide-ranging reports, published last year, and said progress had been made on allowing local authorities greater flexibility, while the reports were explicit that the proposals 'went beyond the life of one government'.
He added: 'There was no quick fix, there were no simple changes.'
Lyons said the revaluation of council tax would have redistributed the tax burden beneficially, while the preoccupation with town halls having more freedom to raise more money distracted from the most urgent problem, which was greater flexibility.
Referring to what a committee member described as the 'politically nuclear' decision to devolve power to a local level, Lyons said it was 'clearly difficult for any government to move faster than the population wanted to'.
He suggested media coverage of 'postcode lotteries' and ministerial intervention had encouraged the view that more local decision-making would leave people disadvantaged, while it was hard to shift the perception that councils were inefficient.
Janet Grauberg, development director of the Public Management and Policy Association, one of three other witnesses at the session, said: 'The key question underlying this… is about the value we as a nation place on local democratic determination and decision-making.'
She said that until this fundamental issue was addressed any policy changes would simply be scratching the surface.