Local government at one time really meant something and was a source of pride and initiative. Many of the great reforming changes in our society came about through local councils. We want to restore pride in local government and voluntary service to one's community.
However, all too many local authorities have become hugely expensive and inefficient centres of mediocrity and bureaucracy. They are often grossly overstaffed and are commonly the largest local employer. We want to restore pride in local government and voluntary service to one's community.
We propose the creation of a modern framework of local government whereby local authorities become responsible for the administration of individual local services. The provision of national services, such as social welfare, will become the responsibility of specialist bodies working to sensible budgets.
Wherever possible, we would give more control to the individual, such as giving parents more choice in the education of their children. Funding would be based on vouchers given to parents, this would in turn allow them to choose the school which offered the best option for their children. This would drive up standards, give schools the freedom to manage their own affairs and to expand where necessary. Local authorities would be able to supplement this expenditure for their local schools but would not be in direct control.
Police and fire services would also be funded through direct payments. We believe that it is necessary for disadvantaged areas with high crime rates to get national support. Again, local authorities would be able to supplement the direct grants for additional projects and local patrol schemes.
Housing benefit is essentially an extension of the social security system and it is very wasteful to duplicate its administration in local authorities throughout the country. We would therefore transfer the administration of housing benefit to social security offices.
These proposals would mean that local councils could concentrate on local services such as planning, housing, leisure facilities, refuse collection, traffic management and local transport. They would still be represented on the authorities overseeing education, policing and so on, and would be able to top up core provision from local funds. Council budgets would be much smaller but a far higher percentage of their budget would be raised locally, helping to produce much more efficient, accountable and transparent local government.
Make council tax lower…
Under our proposals council tax would be substantially reduced through the transfer of core services to central financing. Further reductions in council tax would be made by streamlining local government. In addition to these measures, we would cap local authority spending and council tax levels pending an audit and staffing review. This audit would enable us to streamline local government machinery and introduce tighter oversight of local government pay and conditions of service. It would also allow action to be taken against local authorities failing to meet sensible spending levels.
… and fairer
This policy also moves a substantial part of local taxation away from the controversial council tax to direct taxation on earnings based on the ability to pay. Council tax itself would also be subject to reform. There is an imbalance at present due to wide variations in house prices across the country. This means that many top end houses often end up in the same rate band. We would tackle this in two ways: first, we would add additional bands at the top end of the council tax scale; and second, we would set the value of the bands regionally to match house values in that region.