Political and Constitutional Reform CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Lord Bichard

1. As I said in my evidence to the Committee I do believe that there would be advantage in codifying the relationship between Central and local government. Such a code could clarify the terms of the relationship and bring a degree of stability which has been lacking in the recent past. That would be to the benefit of both the centre and local government and I therefore feel uneasy that this draft code takes as its starting point providing “a degree of protection for local government and its citizen from centralisation and overregulation”. Like all relationships, this is one where both sides have rights and responsibilities and the code needs to articulate these in a balanced way.

2. The current draft also conflates two processes which might better be treated separately. These are:

(a)Defining the subject matter to be covered by the Code eg the principles of the relationship; the process of consultation for policy and legislative changes relevant to local government and the ways in which the relationship is to be protected in constitutional terms.

(b)B. Describing the terms of the relationship eg the degree of financial independence to be provided to. local government and the degree of autonomy afforded to local councils.

To conflate these two issues surely risks losing both and produces a draft code which is unlikely to find favour with any of the stakeholders. The objective should be:

(i)To agree the powers, duties and responsibilities of local and central government.

(ii)To establish the process by which these can be amended (effectively Articles 1 and 10 of the current draft).

(iii)To describe how the relationship should be managed on a routine basis (ie how central government should consult on policy/legislation affecting local councils).

3. At this stage, the Committee might do better to identify the issues which need to be resolved if we are to achieve a clear definition of the relationship rather than attempt to resolve them immediately. To seek to define the extent of local government financial independence has eluded us all for more than forty years. It seems unlikely that the commendably simple statements in Article 7 will succeed when so many have failed—and to be fair, the “brief assessment” does identify the pitfalls and difficulties. As it stands, the draft leaves the Committee open to the accusation of being naive in its considerations.

4. It would also be better to focus on the “big” issues—in particular, I found Article 4 in its current form something of a distraction although it could form part of any section devoted to the management of the routine relationship between the centre and local government.

5. In summary, there is much in this draft and its accompanying exemplification which is helpful and could form the basis for further work and negotiation if the distinct purposes identified in paragraph 2 above were agreed.

May 2011

Prepared 28th January 2013