Agenda item

Congress of the Council of Europe Peer Review of Local Democracy in the UK

Andreas Kiefer (the Secretary General of Congress the Council of Europe) and Cllr John Warmisham (Congress UK Delegation Leader) will be in attendance to present the item. 



Andreas Kiefer (Secretary General of Congress the Council of Europe) presented the findings of its recent peer review of local democracy in the UK. He noted that the UK was generally compliant with the Charter of Local Government, having made improvements since the last review in 1998.  However, he drew attention to a number of areas where there was room for improvement. These included the financial resources of local authorities in England; the lack of recognition in law of the right to local self-government; limitations on local authorities in managing local affairs due to central government interventions; and the standing of the role of councillor as a profession. He expressed disappointment at the Department for Communities and Local Government’s rejection of the report’s recommendations and offered Congress’s help in starting a dialogue with Government. 


Cllr John Warmisham (Congress UK Delegation Leader) welcomed the report’s findings and its unanimous cross party support from the UK and other LGA delegations to Congress.  He echoed Andreas Kiefer’s disappointment at the Government’s reaction to the report and the Minister’s lack of meaningful engagement with the UK delegation at the Plenary Session. He asked the LGA to feed the report’s recommendations into discussions with Government and political parties as they develop policies for 2015. 


Cllr Clarence Barrett summarised the views of the European and International Board, highlighting that there had been cross-party consensus on all key points.


In the discussion that followed Members made a number of comments, including:


·        Members welcomed the report’s recommendations which provided independent, objective and Pan-European support to many of the principles of the LGA’s Rewiring campaign.  They too expressed disappointment at the Government’s opposition to report’s findings that there are some areas in need of improvement. 


·        In particular, Members highlighted the importance of: the role of councillors as full time community leaders within the context of the removal of councillors’ right to be part of the local government pension scheme; and concerns about the financial resources of English local authorities.  It was suggested that the report be used to strengthen the case for devolving further powers to councils to coordinate other services at a local level.


·        In discussing next steps, there was united support for pursuing the report’s recommendations with Government and political parties to influence policy making for manifestoes.  To this end it was suggested that each political Group send the report formally to front-bench teams as well as sending it to the Chair of the DCLG Select Committee for investigation.


·        In terms of Wales, it was noted that the report the highlighted room for improvement in the Welsh Government’s approach to regulatory impact assessments and assessing the impact of new responsibilities on councils.


·        With reference to the reduction in administrative burdens on councils following the abolition of Audit Commission, Member emphasised the importance that the sector continue to robustly make the case in the run up to the 2015 Parliamentary elections for limiting the inspection burdens on councils.   




The Executive agreed that:


       i.          each Political Group formally send the report to front-bench teams, asking for a considered response regarding how international benchmarks are achieved in the UK; and


      ii.          the report be sent to Chair of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Select Committee for investigation.

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