In a speech to the LGA Conference the Leader of Westminster Council Cllr Colin Barrow urged ministers to grant councils new financial powers to set charges and generate funding as they see fit, free from Whitehall audits and inspections.
Citing the example of Cornwall Council, which is investigating the possibility of a implementing Britain’s first tourist tax, Councillor Barrow said Westminster provided hundreds of services to the millions of visitors to central London for which it received no funding.
Cllr Barrow said:
“If Cornwall want a tourist tax, it should have the power to have one. Each year my council pays out more than £50million more than it receives to provide services for visitors from around the globe from Birmingham to Beijing.
“We do not look to ministers for cash, but we might be able to balance the books from those who come here or those that benefit from such visitors.”
Cllr Barrow said that while the government had make good progress on devolving some powers to councils further reforms risked getting bogged down in bureaucracy and officialdom.
Figures show that needless red tape costs Westminster almost £1 million a year – enough to cover the salaries of 26 teachers, 28 social workers or 44 street cleaners.
The council also has to provide Whitehall with more than 2,500 separate pieces of data covering everything from noise, planning and pollution to food safety, rubbish collection and parking.
Attacking the ‘enemies of localism’, Cllr Barrow said:
“We are excited about the benefits of the Localism Bill and the new freedoms for local government.
“But we would have liked faster progress for the localism agenda. I fear that there are still, many enemies of localism. They can be found in Whitehall and in the town hall. Public officials who do not wish to cede power and instead want to impose new regulations and onerous reporting. Some do not wish to devolve any money at all.
“To overcome the enemies of localism the government must reinforce the vanguard, the pioneers and the pilots who wish to drive the new agenda – empowering local people to shape the future.”
Highlighting concern over the lack of progress made on the coalition’s community budgets scheme, Cllr Barrow said it was now time to “throw away the toolbox” of past governments to drive forward new rights and powers to improve services.
“We must accelerate the drive to community budgets which are being stalled in the corridors of Whitehall. Budgets should be pooled, restrictions lifted and light touch reporting agreed.
“We must also throw away the toolbox of past governments. Out with key performance indicators, various forms of guidance and endless rules and regulations and bring in policies to support local people who know best – based on payment by results.”