Prospects for codifying the relationship between central and local government - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents

7  Next steps

119. Even with the noblest of intentions, all previous attempts to rebalance the relationship between central and local government have had, at best, limited effect. With commitment and goodwill, this time it can be different. We see this report as the beginning, not the end, of the discussion. We believe that the next steps are to continue the dialogue with central government and to move, consensually, ever closer to a genuinely equal partnership between central and local government. We believe such a partnership would strengthen both the local and central arms of government.

120. A code for relations between central and local government, enforced by statute, could be beneficial to both tiers of government for several reasons. First, it could help set out exactly where powers do, and should, lie, thereby increasing transparency for the electors. Secondly, it could help redress the overcentralisation of England. Thirdly, it could provide an economic boost that the country sorely needs.

121. While the proposals in the draft code may seem radical to some, local government in much of Europe has enjoyed constitutional protection for decades. The devolution of power to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland has been successful and is an evolving process. England is the odd one out. There is no apparent reason why local government in England is not capable of using similar powers.


122. Witnesses highlighted that even if a code for relations between central and local government were enforced by statute, much would need to be done to change negative perceptions of local government within Whitehall. Charlie Adan, the Chief Executive of Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils, stated:

Clearly, successful implementation of the code would require significant behavioural and attitude change across both central and local government, and legal entrenchment of a code would not be effective without that cultural shift.[96]

Many others, including Suffolk County Council[97], Councillor Geoff Driver, Leader of Lancashire County Council[98], the London Borough of Lambeth[99], and the LGA[100] all made similar comments regarding the need for a cultural shift in favour of local government autonomy.

123. Local government itself will grow and become more important as it gains independence. Being in a local party, on a local council making real decisions in local communities, will lead to a massive renaissance in local government and an injection of energy that will reinvigorate local politics.

124. Another significant consequence of a statutory code devolving power and finance would be that local councils will, in turn, if they so choose, be able to devolve these powers down to neighbourhoods, or to parish councils. What is currently a democratic deficit would give way to a democratic resurgence.

125. We have repeated throughout this report that we are not seeking to put forward a watertight answer regarding the decentralisation of power in England, but rather we are opening up for discussion some concepts which are used extensively elsewhere and could be successfully applied in England.


126. There are several ways in which we propose continuing this dialogue. We have got to this point by careful consultation and close working with local government, by the excellent partnership that we have developed with the Local Government Association, and by listening to expert witnesses. We would like to extend this thoughtful process to include central government at political and official level over the next year or so.

127. We intend to write to all party leaders in the UK Parliament about the draft statutory code asking that they consider it within their own policy-making processes. It is perfectly conceivable to at least start with the ambition that all parties could consider and possibly agree comparable wording that indicated the next steps towards greater autonomy for local government.

128. It might be helpful to many in local and national government to see the approximate shape of any piece of legislation that could give life to a statutory code. For this reason, we will seek to turn the illustrative statutory code into a draft Bill, as part of our ongoing work.

129. In addition, we are now reaching the midpoint of the first ever fixed-term Parliament and many political parties may well feel it is timely to review their policies or engage in some form of midterm refresh. Once again we would urge all party leaders to consider the long-term constitutional future of local government when they come to refresh their policies, and not to miss the opportunity to put on record their proposals on this vital matter.

130. We will host a conference on this issue in 2013, to consider the next steps for the relationship between central and local government. We invite the Government, Parliament, and local government to attend and play an active part.

131. We hope that the mature and sensible way in which we are engaging with local government and central government and many other partners, witnesses and consultees on this issue will be seen as a positive and exemplary way forward. We do not pretend to have all the answers but we do hope that we have posed the questions in a constructive and helpful way that will ultimately result in progress towards a settled constitutional position for English local government which will last for many decades into the future.

96   Ev w61 Back

97   Ev w67 Back

98   Ev w80 Back

99   Ev w95 Back

100   Ev w104 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 29 January 2013