Straw attacks the quango state

Click to follow
BRITAIN has the most regulated and restricted local government in Europe despite the Government's claims that it would sweep away excessive controls, Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, said yesterday.

A large network of quangos had been established at a cost of pounds 42bn - one-fifth of all public money. 'Labour believes that the centralised, unelected, quango state which is being created in Britain is not only damaging to democracy but is also a significant cause of our economic decline. Quangos create vested interests, and vested interests undermine the public interest.'

Mr Straw said the list of quangos was constantly growing. It included training and enterprise councils, health authorities, hospital trusts, boards of governors of grant-maintained schools, governing bodies of further education colleges and housing action trusts. Regional policy was also increasingly run by quangos. In the West Midlands alone there were 35 regional agencies co-ordinating government policy, none of which were locally accountable.

This network of quangos filled with unelected placemen had been described by Professor John Stewart, of the Birmingham-based Institute for Local Government, as 'the new magistracy'.

'He chose this term carefully,' Mr Straw said. 'It accurately describes a system which has many features in common with that which used to prevail before the introduction of universal suffrage at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.'

Mr Straw told a local government conference in Coventry that Labour would abolish the system of capping council budgets.

'We propose to give the local electorate, not the Secretary of State for the Environment, the power of veto over council budgets. That means introducing annual elections, and extending the budget period so that council budgets are not finally ratified until after each year's elections.'