Sunday, September 12, 2004

There is nothing like a dose of self-interest to sharpen the mind

Prescott warned on local powers
Sep 11 2004By Ross Smith,
The Journal
Councillors have launched a fight to stop their powers being usurped by aNorth-East Assembly.

The Local Government Association has submitted evidence to a House of Commons committee saying responsibilities will be taken from councils if an assembly is established.And the LGA fears a clause in the Government's draft bill which allows extra powers to be conferred on assemblies without full Parliamentary debate will lead to more roles being transferred up.

Its concerns have been spelled out to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister select committee.

In particular, the body opposes decisions on housing and fire services being taken regionally.The LGA has been led by the Conservatives since they became the dominant party in local government in June, but stresses its views represent a consensus of members.

LGA project officer Iain Twine said: "Elected regional assemblies must draw powers from local government, which is already operating them effectively."We want to make sure that if there are to be any more powers drawn up from local government, it will require primary legislation with a full debate."Because of their distance from members of the public, assembly members will nothave the same idea as councillors what local issues are."

Newcastle Council leader Peter Arnold agreed: "The worry is that ministers could determine to remove something from local authorities and give it to regional assemblies."The powers should come from central government and quangos. Local government should be left to get on with the job it's best at - delivering local services."

Mr Twine also cast doubt on the Government's claim that part of thecost of the assembly can be paid for out of money saved from local government reorganisation.

But Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, on a visit to Corbridge,Northumberland, yesterday, said: "An assembly would not reproduce local government - it would take strategic decisions that fit in."Counties cannot deal with strategic decisions for the North-East. But Parliament will still have to approve any extra powers."

It emerged yesterday the North-East will be the only referendum on regional government before the next general election.

Mr Prescott is set to postpone again plans for votes in the North-West and Yorkshire and the Humber until at least next summer, when Tony Blair is expected to take the nation to the polls.

Westminster sources confirmed that Mr Prescott's office would make a statement to MPs on Monday outlining the next steps for referendums in the two postponed regions.It was also conceded that no vote was likely until after any general election, leaving the North-East to go it alone.

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