Yesterday's meeting was being seen and described by both sides as an attempt to mend relations and improve central-local government relationships. The Prime Minister agreed to talk to the council leaders after last April's general election, asking them first to reach a dialogue with environment ministers.
The change shows the new mood of conciliation. For the local authorities it was the first taste of consultation. They only formally met Baroness Thatcher once during her period as Prime Minister. For Mr Major it was an opportunity to give substance to his speech to last month's Conservative local government conference. Then he said that he wanted the 1990s to see a 'renaissance of local government'. He wanted an end to the wrangling and wresting about structure and functions. 'Let's stop batting one another around the head and get on with good government,' he said.
The meeting was attended by Bill Dixon Smith, chairman of the Association of County Councils; Lady Elizabeth Anson, chairman of the Association of District Councils; Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities; Robin Wendt, secretary of the ACC, and a representative from Scottish local government.
Mr Major's team included Michael Howard, Secretary of State for the Environment, Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, and John Redwood, the Minister for Local Government.
After the hour-long meeting, Mr Wendt said: 'It was a very important step towards developing a new and better relationship. We agreed to have top-level meetings at annual intervals. We did see him as a friend of local government.'
A key issue was the future role of local government. The council leaders said that capping levels were now so tight there was little room for local manoeuvre. They said the Prime Minister had emphasised the Government's macro-economic responsibilities.
Mr Major put forward his view that an important part of local accountability involved passing power to the grassroots level.
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