Political and Constitutional Reform CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Professor George Jones and Professor John Stewart

A Constitutional Settlement

1. We have advocated a constitutional settlement governing relationships between central and local government before three recent parliamentary committee inquiries. The UK has no written constitution where such a settlement could be inserted, setting out the principles that should govern the role of local government and its relations with central government. We have advocated a quasi-constitutional statute.

2. A statute commands attention in central government departments, and if necessary in the courts, but more is required to ensure the principles are applied. A unit at the heart of central government—possibly the cabinet office—should monitor whether the principles are being embodied in government policies and oversee whether actions taken by departments are consistent with them. Even more important is a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament to monitor the application of the principles, reporting both annually to Parliament on the relationship between central and local government and on specific proposals, judging them against the requirements of the statute. Similar proposals were put forward by the CLG Select Committee in its 2009 report on The Balance of Power: Central and Local Government.

3. These proposals would give recognition to the constitutional position of local government as an elected institution. It would provide a guide for central and local government and a measuring rod against which government proposals and actions could be assessed. Despite previous statements by both Conservative and Labour Governments of the importance of local government and the need for decentralisation, the last three decades have seen continuing centralization. It has happened step-by-step as departments have put forward proposals, each being promoted on its departmental merits without consideration of the cumulative impact of all the changes on local government. The central-local relationship has been changed gradually without any decision to do so or even awareness of the scale of the change. The proposals made above could ensure that central government in its policy-making respects the constitutional position of local government and its role in the system of government.

4. The Localism Bill gives a new importance to these issues. The Government has stated its commitment to localism and decentralization, but the Bill does not recognize that the main obstacles to localism are rooted in the attitudes and practices of central government departments. The panoply of regulations and prescriptions are there because central government has little respect for local government and knows no other way of working than through command and control.

5. We have devised a formal statement in the form of a Code as a basis for a constitutional settlement that could be included in legislation. As a constitutional statement it does not set out the present position, but the position necessary to ensure the principles of localism are secured and the full potential of local government realized. It should be promoted by local government.

6. The Code draws on the framework of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, but goes beyond it. The proposed Code is set out as a basis for discussion. We would be interested in comments and suggested improvements as well as how MPs can be persuaded to support it.

Article 1—Concept of Local Government

1. The primary role of local government, exercised by local elected councils, is the government of local communities, enabling their well-being.

2. Local government needs the powers and resources under their own responsibility to carry out that primary role.

5. The primary accountability of local authorities for the exercise of their responsibilities is to their local citizens.

Article 2—Scope of Local Government

1. The basic duties and powers of local authorities shall be prescribed by statute.

2. Local authorities will be responsible for developing the involvement and empowerment of their communities and citizens in public affairs.

3. Local authorities shall have full discretion to exercise their initiative on any matter not assigned by statute to any other public authority.

4. Public responsibilities shall be exercised by those authorities closest to the citizen.

5. Local authorities shall provide leadership to public bodies in its area who will be accountable to local people through the local authorities.

6. Powers given to local authorities shall be full and exclusive. They may not be undermined or limited by any central or other authority.

7. Local authorities shall be consulted in due time in the planning and decision-making processes of central government for all matters which concern them directly.

Article 3—Protection of Local Authority Boundaries

1. Changes in local authority boundaries shall not be made without prior consultation of the local communities concerned.

Article 4—Appropriate Management Structures of Local Authorities

1. Local authorities shall be able to determine their own internal management and political structures.

2. The conditions of service of local government employees shall ensure the recruitment of high-quality staff on the basis of merit and competence and adequate training opportunities, remuneration and career prospects shall be provided.

Article 5—Conditions under which Councillor Responsibilities are Exercised

1. The conditions of office of local elected representatives shall provide for free exercise of their functions.

2. They shall allow for appropriate financial compensation for expenses incurred and remuneration for their role and responsibilities.

Article 6—External supervision of Local Authorities’ Activities

1. Any external supervision of the activities of local authorities shall aim only at ensuring compliance with the law.

2. External inspection and assessment should be initiated by and reported to local authorities and their citizens.

Article 7—Financial Resources of Local Authorities

1. Local authorities shall be entitled to adequate financial resources of their own, of which they may dispose freely within the framework of their statutory powers.

2. Local authorities’ financial resources shall be commensurate with the responsibilities.

3. All the financial resources of local authorities shall derive from local taxes and charges over which they shall have the power to determine the rate. The only exceptions should be grants designed to correct the effects of the unequal distribution of potential sources of finance and of the financial burdens they must support.

4. The financial systems on which resources available to local authorities are based shall be of a sufficiently diversified and buoyant nature to enable them to keep pace with the cost of carrying out their tasks.

5. For the purpose of borrowing for capital investment, local authorities shall have access to the national capital market.

Article 8—Legal Protection of Local Self-Government

1. Local authorities shall have the right of recourse to a judicial remedy in order to secure free exercise of their powers and respect for the principles of local government.

Prepared 28th January 2013