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Example research essay topic: 2 Nd Edition Local Government - 1,589 words

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The structure of local government in England and Wales at the end of the 1990 's was still essentially a two-tier system based on counties (the top tier) and the districts (the lower tier). This broad division between two levels of authority is a historical survival pre-dating the Local Government Act 1972, the first serious attempt to reform the structure. This Act was in turn partially based on the proposals contained in the Redcliffe-Maud report of 1968. It was set up by the Labour government led by Wilson in 1966, and the commission was charged with examining the structure of local government with a view to making recommendations for its improvement. It was said, that many local authorities were too small to function efficiently, as they lacked qualified staffs and resources.

Possibly the most important findings of the Maud Commission were the criticisms relating to local democracy and central-local relationships. The effects of the structural defects existing in local government were firstly, the public perceived local government as irrelevant, with a consequent increase in apathy. Secondly, central government ministers were reluctant to expand the powers of existing local authorities because of the inefficiencies in the system. Maud wanted to see existing local councils replaced by more efficient unitary authorities.

This never happened. Instead a more complex three-tier system was created in 1995 (comprising of two tiers and a single tier). Although it is early to comment on the new authorities, the introduction of what is in effect a "hybrid" system of local government has had a mixed reception. The generally held belief is that local government should be accessible and close to the people it serves. If people are to participate, local government boundaries should reflect local community feelings. Local government is elected, and is therefore representative and responsible.

This makes it different from local administration, which would be where branch offices of government ministries run local affairs. Local government - in principle - is fairly autonomous, and this gives it a claim to power. It is the only directly elected body apart from parliament. In theory local government is a useful addition to democracy. Firstly, it is necessary to protect local interests, which someone in London may know nothing about. Secondly, some things can be more efficiently administered locally, by local people.

Co-ordination of the different services is easier if done locally. Thirdly, it relieves the workload of central government which has increased this century. Fourthly, it may encourage citizen participation in politics. It is also a guard against central tyranny, being a form of decentralization, and it prevents sloppy government. Although the Widdicombe Report of 1986 noted with approval local government pluralism, participation and responsiveness, some criticisms may be made: local government does not work as well in practice as the theory would suggest. It is only autonomous for as long as parliament says so.

Central government has increasingly stripped away local government's powers. An article published in The Times, called "True Local Democracy Matters, Mr Hague, " criticized the Tory leader about his policy to take state schools away from local councils and bring them under Whitehall control, and say that "Local is the missing link from every aspect of the new Tory strategy. " It may be quite rightly assumed, that if the Tories were to come into power again, they would most likely centralize power even further. Another problem is, people do not participate, according to the Widdicombe Report, only 20 % - 60 % of the electorate actually vote in local elections. Local councils are not hugely representative, and because of the lack of participation, local government may have problems surviving.

Even where voters vote for parties, they are influenced more by national issues than by local ones, usually. The constitutional position of local government is central to the question in hand. We live in a unitary state, hence local government has no absolute right to exist. All the powers of local government are conferred by Parliament and can be withdrawn. This preserves the rule of law, and the sovereignty of parliament. However, this does not mean that local government is merely an agent of central government.

Pressure groups like Charter 88 plays a major role in the decision making process of central government's policy regarding local authorities. Charter 88 is an independent campaign for a modern and fair democracy. They believe that power should be decentralized, and that having a local government who has more authority will make the country more efficient, representative, and accountable than central government. To be able to discuss the issue fully, it is important to analyze the relationship between central and local government. The relationship between local and central government is not static. It varies according to the degree of extremism of either the degree to which the same party controls both, and the state of the economy.

It can be said that there is less conflict under Tony Blair than there was in the Thatcher period. A brief history of the relationship will help to explain why this relationship has eventually broken down. From 1870 to about 1970 there was a consensus on the relative roles of local and central government. Local services expanded and government was happy with this. There were occasional disagreements (about comprehensive schools and rent levels) but these were within a framework of basic agreement. Local government recognized that it was subordinate to central government.

After 1970, because of the failures of local government, as well as for the ideological reasons and for reasons of economic policy, some radical changes were made by the conservatives between 1979 and 1997. Mrs Thatcher began with financial reforms for example, cuts in Rates Supports Grants and introduced a penalty system. In April 1990, council rates were abolished and the Poll Tax was introduced. 50 % of council income would be government grants and 25 % business rates forwarded on by the government, so councils would be financially largely accountable to central government. Poll Tax was deeply unpopular with voters because it took no account of income or size of house. By 1990, there were many local and national demonstrations in protest. By the end of 1990, Mrs Thatcher had been ditched by her own party.

Poll Tax was replaced by Council Tax, introduced by Labor. Local government is a form of self government in the sense that local authorities are given considerable independence from the centre. Relationships between these two levels of government (both affecting the citizen) traditionally involved in a delicate balance between control and independence; partnership and separation. Controls fall into three areas - parliamentary, executive and judicial - although local authorities do not have three sets of controllers.

The powers of local authorities are conferred by parliamentary statutes emanating from central government. Councils therefore work within the board general framework of central government policy. They do not legislate except in the sense of local by-laws that are also subject to executive controls. Executive or administrative control over local government is substantial and covers all the activities of council work.

Judicial control over local government is not as significant as in the early nineteenth century because of the development of central control. The courts can rule local authority power as being beyond its statutory remit or ultra view. They can also decide whether matters are within the competence of a local authority. As the function of local government has changed, so the traditional relationship between the centre and localities has had to adapt. Under a unitary form of central government, local authorities cannot be completely independent units administering services irrespective of the policy dictates of the majority party in government.

On the other hand, local government enshrines important principle of local democracy and does not simply act as an agent of central government. Since the election of the Labor government in 1997, changes in local government have continued. Labor are committed to some form of unitary structures and are planning to overhaul local authority management to keep the distinction between policy and its implementation. The Labor manifesto promised referendums in localities to test the popularity of the introduction of English regional assemblies and the people of London voted in 1998 for an elected mayor controlled by an elected assembly to deal with policing, transport, environmental protection and other cross-borough issues. Plans also include the creation of elected mayors with executive powers in every English town or city after referendums to test the ideas.

However, it can be said, that central government still retains too much power; power is centralized. Labor has started to implement the ideas of Devolution i. e. , Wales and Scotland. Maybe they should consider devolving power to England, and adopt a more American model of a federal system. However, that is another issue.

Bibliography A. U. D. I.

T Commission, published 1998, Performance review in Local Government, A handbook for auditors and local authorities, Data supplement; (can be found in the Boots Library, 352. 003, AUD, PAMPHLET), HMSO Publications Barnett, Hilaire, published 2000, Constitutional & Administrative Law, 2 nd Edition, Cavendish Publishing Ltd; London, GB. web Home page of The Local Government Association. McAuslan, P, published 1987, "The Widdicombe Report: local government business or politics?" PL 154 Redcliffe-Maud L; Wood, Bruce, published 1974, Oxford University Press, page 76. Jenkins, Simon, published 14 th October 2000, The Times, article titled "True Local Democracy Matters, Mr Hague. " Turpin, Collin, published 1990, Law in Context: British Government and the Constitution, Text, Cases and Materials, 2 nd Edition, Weidenfeld Paperbacks, GB. web


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