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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 July 2007, 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK
Voters given local budget powers
A refuse collector emptying rubbish into a dustcart
Local people will decide how money is spent on local services
Plans to give people a greater say in how English councils spend their money have been unveiled by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears.

She announced 10 pilot schemes where residents will decide spending priorities for budgets ranging from 200,000 to 23m.

Ms Blears told the Local Government Association it would give some of the most powerless people a voice.

But the Lib Dems dismissed the announcement as "gesture politics".

Neighbourhood pride

In her first speech as Communities and Local Government Secretary, Ms Blears said for many people, sitting on a council committee was "not an exciting prospect".

But she said she wanted them to get involved with spending on their neighbourhoods and feel proud of their area.

Democracy should be about much more than casting a vote every few years
Hazel Blears
Communities Secretary

They would decide whether more money should be spent on services like local police, cleaning up parks and refuse collections.

Ms Blears, a former councillor, said it was not about "bypassing councils", but aimed at getting local people and councils together.

She said: "Democracy should be about much more than casting a vote every few years.

"It should be a daily activity, not an abstract theory. Local people know the needs of their area better than anyone."

'People's purse'

The 10 pilot areas are Merseyside, Nottinghamshire, Birmingham, Lewisham, Bradford, Salford, Sunderland, Newcastle, Southampton and St Helens.

A spokesman for her department said it was up to each area to work out how to take decisions but options included city-wide ballots, local panels, or public meetings.

Ms Blears said the aim was for every neighbourhood to have control of a "community kitty" or "people's purse" within five years.

Rather than a partnership between local and central government, this is more Whitehall dictatorship
Andrew Stunell
Liberal Democrats

Ms Blears was addressing the conference of the Local Government Association, which has questioned public desire for the plans.

It believes it would be better to devolve the money to frontline councillors who could consult on how the money was spent in their wards.

For the Lib Dems, Andrew Stunell said it was "nothing more than gesture politics" which would not give people a bigger say.

Ring-fenced grants

He said it would be better to give councillors more powers to "stick up for their areas on vital decisions such as planning and licensing decisions".

He added: "It also means ending government micro-management of council spending.

"In the last decade the amount of council spending coming from ring-fenced grants has increased from 1.6 billion to 7.2 billion.

Today Hazel Blears has announced that she is giving people a little bit of power to spend a little bit of money
David Cameron
Conservative leader

"Rather than a partnership between local and central government, this is more Whitehall dictatorship. "

In an earlier speech to the conference, Conservative leader David Cameron said he wanted to abolish regional assemblies and hand their powers to local councils, as well as to phase out ring-fenced grants.

He also backs more powerful elected mayors for major cities to help raise the profile of local government.

"Today Hazel Blears has announced that she is giving people a little bit of power to spend a little bit of money," he said.

"By contrast, we would give people a lot of power to spend a lot of money."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
How the project would work



VOTE RESULTS
Council budgets: Should the people decide?
Yes
 68.77% 
No
 24.02% 
Not sure
 7.21% 
4009 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

SEE ALSO
Councils to challenge Kelly plans
19 Jun 07 |  UK Politics
Councils to get fresh law powers
26 Oct 06 |  UK Politics

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