Councils provide 'better services': Howard denies emasculation of authorities

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL HOWARD, Secretary of State for the Environment, yesterday denied claims that he had 'emasculated' local government by stripping councils of their major powers.

When challenged on the Walden programme on ITV, Mr Howard insisted that voters had benefited since the Conservatives came to power in 1979, because services were now more effective, and of higher standards.

Interviewed by Brian Walden, the Secretary of State dismissed claims that councils had been 'stripped' of meaningful functions, and now had little freedom to make decisions involving significant amounts of money.

He also denied that in such areas as education, health and transport, central government had taken away from local government important powers that were once decided locally.

Mr Howard said the opposite was true: 'We have given local authorities new responsibilities. We have removed the huge numbers of controls over the ways in which local authorities discharge their responsibilities. One of the first things we did was to remove some 300 detailed restrictions.'

When the Tories first took power in 1979 there had been 873 government circulars detailing how councils should act. This had been reduced to under 600.

Nevertheless, he said, it was for Parliament to decide how and whether boundaries should be changed to enable local services to be best met.

He cited the Care in the Community initiative as an example of giving local authorities new powers to act, with pounds 575m new money this year, ring-fenced, to provide a better service.