Magazine article Public Finance

Kelly Touches the Brakes on Devolution

Magazine article Public Finance

Kelly Touches the Brakes on Devolution

Article excerpt

Local Government secretary Ruth Kelly this week delayed the sector's white paper until the autumn, allowing for a more radical assessment of plans to devolve powers to cities and town halls.

Kelly's decision, announced on June 6, was timely: earlier in the day Prime Minister Tony Blair had reiterated that he would press ahead with public services reforms, but made it clear he would seek a continual evolution in service delivery at national and local level.

Amid speculation that it could be turned into a green paper described by Kelly as 'inaccurate' - sources from the Department for Communities and Local Government admitted that elements of the document could be consultative and not simply prescriptive.

Explaining her decision to delay publication, Kelly said she would 'rather do it right than do it quickly' and told Public Finance that she 'needed time to consider how complex and difficult local government restructuring would impact on the DCLG's new wideranging remit', within the context of wider government plans to improve public services.

Senior department sources later indicated that this could, for example, involve a reassessment of the city-regions agenda pursued by David Miliband, Kelly's predecessor.

Chancellor Gordon Brown's Treasury team has assumed increasing influence over the snowballing city-regions initiative the idea that local authorities and their partners will in future pool resources across existing boundaries to fuel much-needed regional development.

Recent indications are that Brown favours a more influential, co-ordinating role for organisations such as regional development agencies than Miliband's embryonic plans for devolved cityregions had anticipated.

Dennis Reed, chief executive of the Local Government Information Unit think-tank, said: 'The big question is whether the new minister will buy into the localism direction taken by David Miliband or whether we will see a change in direction away from "double devolution" [Miliband's plan to devolve influence over public services down to neighbourhood level, beyond town halls] to a more centralist evolution.'

Sir Sandy Bruce Lockhart, Conservative chair of the Local Government Association, said that what mattered was that the eventual local government Bill had 'the backing not only of DCLG, but also Number 10, the Treasury and other ministers for the work of Sir Michael Lyons and our own Closer to people and places report, both of which call for bold devolution to give councils powers to shape places, boost economic growth and give power to people locally'. …

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