Beecham attacks growing centralisation

29 Jun 00
The Blair government's determination to downgrade local authorities in favour of control from Whitehall has been likened to Soviet-style centralist rule by the leader of the Local Government Association.

30 June 2000

Chairman Sir Jeremy Beecham's outspoken attack on behalf of beleaguered local government came in his opening address to the LGA's annual conference in Bournemouth on June 28, attended by Home Secretary Jack Straw and local government minister Hilary Armstrong.

'There was once a system in which the central government laid down elaborate five-year plans, minutely identifying targets and employing an army of inspectors,' he said. 'That was the old command economy of Russia and eastern Europe. We do not wish to see the creation of a command society, however well-motivated ministers of whatever political persuasion or their civil servants may be.'

Sir Jeremy, a councillor for 30 years and a member of the Labour Party's national executive, insisted that local authorities should be given the flexibility to show initiative and innovation in tackling the problems they face. 'If some reports are to be believed, or the apparent inclinations of some ministers and shadow ministers were to be realised, it may be that the future of local government could best be described by the words of Hobbes about the Life of Man, namely that it would be "nasty, brutish and short",' he said.

His 'get your tanks off our lawn' message was at its strongest when he referred to the much-touted 'frontline first' policy, under which some local services will be funded directly by Whitehall departments.

'I find the notion that councils and councillors are not themselves in the frontline frankly offensive,' he said. 'The notion that you can ring-fence education or social care expenditure and direct the provision of services from Whitehall… would be both unworkable and in terms of local democracy completely unacceptable.'

He added: 'We look to government to acknowledge the need for local diversity and accountability. It must recognise that 25,000 schools cannot be run from Whitehall.'

He also called for local authorities to be granted more financial freedom from central government to tackle issues such as social exclusion and crime effectively.

'Responsive and effective local councils are the natural leaders in this endeavour. But the frontline needs freedom and solutions must be local, not rigid and inflexible,' Beecham added.


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