Political and Constitutional Reform CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Localis

Prospects for Codifying the Relationship Between Central and Local Government

A written constitution as an idea is potentially quite interesting, but codifying the relationship between central and local government does not require it. The relationship must be considered in the whole, including consideration of local government finance, performance management, interactions, administrative capacity and the presence of the centre in localities as well as a whole range of other factors. A constitution can be undermined by central government as the evidence of other countries shows. The driver of this interference is most likely the result of a range of factors that go beyond a constitution.

Whilst codification might not need to be constitutional, it is important that permanent measures are put in place to ensure that the centre cannot change the rules of the game at its own will. There are a number of ways that this could be achieved:

Local Government Finance

Addressing the balance of funding between central and local government is the single most important change in addressing the relationship between central and local government in the UK. Whilst this must be coupled with sufficient and significant administrative powers, this would be one way of ensuring a long lasting and meaningful change in the relationship between central and local government.

Whilst the UK is not unique in central government’s use of reorganisations, rate capping and other financial burdens, it is often said that the UK is one of the most centralised countries in the developed world, due in large part to the low degree of self funding that UK local government receives.

There are a lot of questions and problems as to how exactly you achieve the rebalancing, but one obvious place to start would be to look at how to re-localise business rates, which makes up a large proportion of the formula grant which is distributed by central government

Provide Local Government with Greater Administrative Capacity

Without responsibility for sufficient, and importantly, the right functions, local government will never be considered to be an equal partner with central government. The right powers need to be devolved to the local level, particularly those that are considered to be creating duplication or waste when run centrally. These would sit within a broad commissioning role for local government, and could be further enhanced by pooled or community budgets.

Give Local Government a Place at the Decision Making Table

There are many ways that this could be achieved. It may be possible to get a stronger local government representation in the upper house, although something similar could be achieved through a joint committee of both the houses.

Clarifying Accountability and Responsibility Between Different Tiers of Government

Codifying what lies at what level will provide greater clarity and lines of accountability, so as to ensure that people are more likely to turn to their local councillor rather than their MP over the most appropriate issues.

Localism to Run Through Departments

The current Government has created a Structural Reform Plan, which is designed to provide a framework to ensure that localism is a theme that runs through every department, and not just CLG. There are a range of initiatives that would enable understanding of local government issues, such as secondments from central departments to local government.

General Power of Competence

The General Power of Competence is potentially a far reaching power that could help to codify a clear intention that local government is able to do whatever it wants in the interests of its residents.

3 December 2010

Prepared 28th January 2013