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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 October 2006, 18:41 GMT 19:41 UK
Councils to get fresh law powers
A binman emptying rubbish into a dustcart
The plans offer greater power for local communities across England
English councils will get the power to bring in bylaws with fixed penalties without Whitehall approval under plans to increase local communities' powers.

The proposed shake-up would bring in more mayors and elected leaders, with police, health and education bosses to face greater scrutiny from the public.

Local inquiries on issues such as hospital closures and drug dealing could begin if there was public demand.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly said councils must be community "champions".

Targets cut

The government's White Paper comes during the comprehensive review of local government finance, led by Sir Michael Lyons. He is due to report to ministers in December.

Ms Kelly told the Commons that 1,200 national targets and indicators for local government would be cut to 200 indicators and 35 targets.

Councils can create bylaws with fixed penalty notices, without needing central government approval
Giving council committees more power to review actions of public bodies, such as police and hospitals
More councils to have directly elected mayor or chief councillor
'Short window of opportunity' to allow some councils to become unitary authorities (in charge of all local services)
Good parish councils to get 'general power of well-being', to promote social, economic and environmental improvements
Slash number of government targets for councils

She said the plans were a "community call for action", adding: "We will focus upon things that really matter to people everywhere."

Ms Kelly added: "Our clear, overriding principle is that the greater the powers devolved, the greater the role of strong, clear leadership."

Local people had to be consulted on all important issues, she said.

More voters would get the chance to elect their own mayor or executive councillor, Ms Kelly added.

Alternatively, council members could choose a leader with a "clear mandate" every four years.

But for the Conservatives the shadow communities secretary Caroline Spelman said: "These localist policies are not worth the paper they are written on."

She added that there was confusion "between a failed regional agenda and a real local agenda", labelling the proposals "toothless".

We don't need more local government, we just need a better government
Andrew Smith, Leeds

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said the proposals had been "rushed" and should have been held back until the Lyons report.

"Until we know what the proposals are going to be for the financing of local government, it seems to be pretty remarkable to discuss the powers of local government because the two - powers and finance - are inextricably linked."

He also said that the plans failed to address the "fundamental problem" of people feeling they had no influence on decisions that affect their lives.

Sir Michael Lyons said he would consider the White Paper recommendations in his own report.

"Greater freedom for local choice and for greater variation between one community and another will leave the space for local government and its partners to address [the issues]," he said.

Ms Kelly earlier told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Rather than the government having to approve every single local bylaw, it should be local people that decide whether they want a particular law tackling anti-social behaviour."

'Rhetoric or reality'

People should be "able to go out and impose an instant fine if someone breaks that", she said.

In Wales, powers would be handed over to the national assembly.

Funding: Revenues come from a locally-set council tax, rates for businesses, government grants and other areas such as parking tickets
Public spaces: Authorities oversee street-cleaning and maintenance of roads, pavements, parks and gardens
Education: Services such as school and libraries are provided by councils
Welfare: They deal with housing provision and other social services such as meals-on-wheels
Businesses: Councils ensure food safety and trading standards are maintained
Disruption: Anti-social behaviour, noise and litter are all tackled at a local level
Buildings: Authorities also grant permission for planning applications and set regulations for work on property

Tory peer Lord Bruce-Lockhart, who chairs the Local Government Association, said the White Paper was "encouraging" and took "significant steps on local leadership, deregulation and cutting red tape".

He added: "We need to see the full extent of the powers in transport, planning, housing, skills, welfare, and economic development which are actually going to be devolved from regional and national government to councils.

"This, together with the ability for councils to retain more of the taxes already raised locally, will turn the rhetoric of devolution into reality."

Sir Jeremy Beecham, Labour's leader on the association, claimed local authorities spent too much time reporting to the government, rather than their residents.

The White Paper proposed a "welcome change" in the relationship between central and local government, he said.

The business group CBI said it welcomed the "focus on efficiency, user engagement and greater use of competition in delivering improved services".

Dr Neil Bentley, its director of public services, said: "In terms of business development, the government is right to acknowledge that transport and planning are important, but we will need to see detailed plans as to their exact intentions."

The changes planned in the White Paper

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