UK Politics

Local government: Councils call for England department

Recycling bins in Harrow
Image caption Local councils get many billions in funding from central government every year

Merging six government departments into an office for England would help revive the economy and public services, council leaders have said.

Local Government Association head Sir Merrick Cockell said funding should be decided by councils themselves and not by ministers.

He told the BBC it was time to "get rid" of the boundaries between national and local government and give English local authorities more power.

The LGA represents 370 local councils.

Sir Merrick told the umbrella body's conference in Manchester that councils should be given more power to decide local tax rates and that ministers should have less of an influence on local decisions.

'Endless civil servants'

He told BBC Breakfast that the existing relationships between central and local government had led to "an enormous amount of waste".

"We're saying actually join it all up. If you're going to have an England department which is focused on public services - most of which are delivered at local levels - then let those local levels take that responsibility," he added.

"We don't need endless civil servants in Whitehall."

The LGA proposed merging the Department for Communities and Local Government, Department for Transport, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

It also said relevant parts of the Home Office should be brought into a new office for England.

Local authorities face a 10% funding cut in 2015-16, on top of the 30% reduction since 2011.

Ministers have already sought to give councils greater financial freedom, including more control over business rates, in return for them having to press through some of the deepest budget cuts in the public sector.

Local government was among the areas to be hit hardest in last week's Spending Review, leading to warnings that some councils are facing financial meltdown.

Council leaders in England say their counterparts in the rest of the UK have not been treated as severely.

'More for less'

BBC local government correspondent Mike Sergeant said Sir Merrick will also call for councils to have the power to hold a referendum if they want to introduce a new local tax.

In response, local government minister Brandon Lewis said councils should be doing more for less and the British public would not support any changes that would result in "higher charges and taxes".

"Despite the need to tackle the deficit left by the last administration, this government has decentralised power and given local communities a whole range of new freedoms and powers," he said.

"There is more to do to save taxpayers' money by greater joint working between local and central government."

Other speakers at the three-day conference include Local government Secretary Eric Pickles, Business Secretary Vince Cable and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham.

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