shield town halls from austerity says Council of Europe


By Vivienne Russell                                                                                             

First appeared in Public Finance on 7 March 2014 

The UK government should take measures to reduce the financial burden on local authorities, according to a report from the Council of Europe.

The council, which regularly reports on the state of local and regional government across the European Union, today issued its second review of the UK situation. The first was carried out in 1998.

It noted that, since then, there had been some improvements, most notably devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But there are areas of concern including councils’ financial resources, the limited taxation powers and dependence on government grants.

‘There are [also] ambiguities that need to be addressed in areas such as the lack of recognition of the right of local self-government in the law beyond the general powers grants by the Localism Act 2011, and the limitation of local authorities’ discretion to manage local affairs through the intervention by various ministries of the central government,’ it stated.

The council called for the UK government to consider strengthening the powers of local authorities. ‘They recommend the UK government to take measures to reduce the financial burden on local authorities arising from budget cuts and indebtedness, and to reinforce the role of elected office holders by improving their status.’

Local Government Association chair Sir Merrick Cockell welcomed the recommendations.

He said: ‘We feel this review is a fair reflection on the current pressures facing local government. The current model for financing and running local government needs to change and adapt to today’s circumstances and it is important that local and central government works together to address these issues and takes these recommendations forward.

‘Devolution of decision-making and tax-raising powers to local areas is needed to help save money and improve services and English communities need to be given the same significant say over everything from health services to public transport as they do across the border in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.’

Founded in 1949, the Council of Europe and 47 member nations to boost democracy and good governments. Its local government arm is responsible for monitoring local democracy in member states by assessing application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

The LGA nominates 14 councillors to site on the Congress assembly and provides the UK secretariat.