Plea to give councils more power

SUFFOLK County Council chief executive Andrea Hill has made a strong appeal for more powers to be handed over to local authorities.

Giving evidence to a committee of MPs, Mrs Hill said central government had set down far too many targets and rules for local authorities – based on the fear that some might mismanage their affairs.

She said: 'Central government is controlling all local authorities because of the fears over a small number of local authorities.'

She was one of three senior local government figures giving evidence to the House of Commons' Political and Constitution Reform Committee.

At the start of the hearing, committee chairman Graham Allen, MP, invited Mrs Hill, Birmingham City Council chief executive Stephen Hughes and Manchester City Council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein to look forward to council operations in 10 years' time.

During her career in local government, all the politicians Mrs Hill had met were determined to do their best for the area they served.

She wanted more central government functions to be handed over to local authorities – especially police and health services – because it was local people who knew best what their area wanted.

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Mrs Hill said: 'Central government should have a target to ensure people are kept safe from the threat of terrorism, but other targets should be set locally. For instance school standards should be set locally.'

With too many targets being set by the Government, there was a danger that every area of the country would be the same.

And she did not believe the same council system should apply across the country: 'I am not into one size fits all. It is not right to make everyone have the same system.'

She was encouraged by what the new Government was saying, but was wary about whether the civil servants in Whitehall would be able to give up powers.

She said: 'I think that the Government's mood music is going in the right direction, but civil servants have always controlled local government.'

If she talked to Suffolk PCT about health service changes, their view of them seemed to be different to that of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

She said there needed to be a cultural change at both central and local government level – with ministers and civil servants willing to give more power to local authorities and councils themselves getting more confidence to operate without targets coming down from Whitehall and Westminster.

Over the last few years the Government had given money to local authorities to set up children's centres and had also provided money for other investment like new libraries.

Mrs Hill said that by keeping these funds separate, the communities had not been well served.

In places new libraries and new children's centres had been developed very near each other – when it would have brought the community together much better if a single building had gone up.

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