PARLIAMENT & POLITICS: LOCAL AUTHORITIES - Best Councils Will Be Given Extra Freedoms, Says Byers

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THE BEST-PERFORMING local authorities will get complete freedom to set their council tax levels under plans to devolve more power to town halls.

Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Local Government and the Regions, unveiled wide-ranging plans to reinvigorate the council structure yesterday.

Authorities will be ranked in one of four categories: high- performing, striving, coasting or poor-performing. Unveiling his Local Government White Paper, Mr Byers said the threat of capping, used to control local government spending, would be removed from the best authorities from 2003- 04. That will allow them to set council taxes at as high a level as they believe necessary to fund services. Ministers are confident they will shy away from inflation-busting increases because of the need to face re-election. The councils will also have to demonstrate good value for money in reviews of their finances by the Audit Commission. The best councils will be given extra freedom to use money from fines and to raise cash from services such as pest control and planning advice, while inspections will reduce. …