News from the Local Government Associations conference Blears picks up the baton for localism

12 Jul 07
New Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has vowed to make 'localism and devolution' the watchwords of her tenure, she said in her first major speech since her appointment.

13 July 2007

New Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has vowed to make 'localism and devolution' the watchwords of her tenure, she said in her first major speech since her appointment.

Addressing delegates at the Local Government Association conference in Birmingham on July 5, Blears said handing new powers to local communities was an essential part of the drive to improve services and tackle major challenges, such as community cohesion and climate change.

She also indicated that she sympathised with the call, made by new LGA chair Sir Simon Milton the previous day, to give councils and residents a greater say in the design and provision of other services in their areas.

'It's clear to me we need to be thinking about giving local people more control over their NHS and their police force,' Blears said.

'It's early days, but I will be discussing with my ministerial colleagues how we make this happen.

'There isn't a single service or development in Britain which hasn't been improved by actively involving local people, and there's more common sense on the average street or estate than in all of the think-tanks in Westminster.'

Blears used her speech to endorse the principle of 'participatory budgeting', where residents have a funding pot they can distribute, and announced the launch of pilot projects in ten local authorities.

She told delegates that giving residents direct involvement in spending decisions would allow them to target issues of particular local concern, such as antisocial behaviour, and clearing litter and graffiti. This in turn would foster a sense of civic pride.

'It's a way of making people feel more able to say this is my street, my estate, and I'm proud of it.'

Blears also announced 20 pilot projects pioneering the transfer of assets to community control, in response to the recent review conducted by the London Borough of Lewisham's chief executive, Barry Quirk.

Under the schemes, facilities such as leisure centres and village halls, and empty buildings such as former police stations, will be transferred to community organisations and used as public resources.

'Asset transfer creates active citizens. It builds, not threatens, local democracy,' Blears told the conference.

Help people help themselves, says Cameron

Disadvantaged and difficult children are being denied the help they need because of 'soft bigotry' on the part of government and some public bodies, David Cameron told the conference.

The Conservative leader said low expectations of such children meant that poor behaviour was often tolerated and early help, which could prevent children with problems from falling into criminality or drug addiction in later life, was not available.

Cameron said the report from Iain Duncan Smith's social justice policy group, which was published on July 10, would provide solutions to these problems.

He pledged to make 'tackling social breakdown' the 'modern mission' of his party.

'I believe that the best way to help people in areas of social breakdown is to give them the tools to help themselves. The money, the power and the responsibility,' he said. 'You can't mend a broken society with the clunking fist of state control. We need a new approach: bottom-up social responsibility.'

Cameron singled out for criticism the government's policy on the provision of special schools, where pressure from the centre to close such institutions had resulted in inadequate provision in many parts of the country.

At the same time, the number of children in pupil referral units, which take those who have been excluded from mainstream schools, had risen sharply, he said.

'This is quite simply a national scandal. We are closing the places kids do need and putting them in places which are wrong for them.'

Benn urges UK to make more effort to recycle

Hilary Benn, the newly appointed environment secretary, said it was time for Britain to boost its rates of recycling household waste to match those of other western European countries.

Benn told delegates that people in central and local government, and individual households, would all have to accept responsibility and make a concerted effort to improve performance.

'Every one of us is going to have to change the way we do things,' he said. 'Many places in Europe are ahead of us [on recycling] and we shouldn't be behind any more, we should be alongside them.'

Benn said this would be achieved using a mix of 'regulation, incentives and promoting individual responsibility'.

He used his speech to launch an environmental prospectus, drawn up jointly by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the LGA, which he said would help take this forward.

The document sets out objectives such as how local authorities can break the link between waste and the economy.


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