LibDems promise finance powers for town halls

15 Apr 15

The Liberal Democrats would reform council funding by giving local authorities more powers over revenue and spending and a new right to demand devolution from Whitehall.

The party’s manifesto, published today, said it would use the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Local Government Finance to establish a process to deliver greater devolution of financial responsibility to English town halls.

The commission, which was formed by CIPFA and the Local Government Association, recommended in February that groups of local authorities should be given complete control over council tax, including the value of bands and the timing of revaluations. As part of a ‘decade of devolution’, the commission also called for abolition of the referendum cap on council tax increases and full retention of business rates.

The LibDem manifesto promises to rejuvenate local government in England by removing the referendum cap, and would devolve skills funding and back-to-work support to authorities and local enterprise partnerships.

A new ‘devolution on demand’ power would also allow councils that want to take on further powers to approach the government with proposals for greater local control.

This would form part of a Whitehall process ‘to deliver greater devolution of financial responsibility to English local authorities, and any new devolved bodies in England, building on the work of the Independent Commission on Local Government Finance’, the manifesto stated.

Any changes must balance the objectives of more local autonomy and fair equalisation between communities, it added.

Responding to backing for the commission’s proposals, CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman said he welcomed any commitment from a political party to listen to local government and adopt the recommendations.

He added: ‘The report established a clear direction of travel for local government with pragmatic solutions, which wouldn’t increase government spending, but would allow financial sustainability and local accountability for public services.

‘Central government has the capacity to implement these solutions and acceptance of that by politicians is an important step.’

Launching the document, Nick Clegg also announced the party would increase education funding by £2.5bn in the next parliament if it was returned to government.

The deputy prime minister said the party would prioritise spending to ensure that every child in England gets a world-class education.

As well as protecting school funding per pupil over the next five years, Clegg said this would also ensure a qualified teacher was in every classroom and help schools to offer more one-to-one and small group tuition. The funding would also allow for the expansion of early years education.

Other key pledges in the document include a promise to balance current spending by 2017/18 and then increase spending on public services in line with economic growth thereafter. The party has also promised to raise the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500 and to provide an extra £8bn for the NHS in England to implement the Five Year Forward View plans.

Clegg said that the policy proposals were ‘a blueprint for a stronger economy and a fairer society’.

He said he was ‘immensely proud’ of the party’s work in government, which included introducing the pupil premium for poorer schoolchildren.

‘At the last election, protecting schools spending and investing huge amounts of extra money towards the poorest pupils was one of our top priorities,’ he added.

‘We are determined to make sure that every child in Britain has a world class education.’

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