By Marcus Leach

Plans to give Ministers hundreds of new powers to tell councils how to deliver local services will increase council administration costs by at least £68 million a year, town hall leaders warn.

New analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) reveals that measures proposed in the Localism Bill, which received its second reading in the Lords on Tuesday, will cost district and unitary authorities on average more than £250,000 each per year — enough to pay the salary of 16 care workers.

The LGA is concerned that if the Bill is adopted without amendment thousands of hours of council staff time will be lost jumping through Whitehall’s bureaucratic hoops, doing things like checking the validity of names on petitions, compiling lists of “Assets of Community Value” and ticking centrally imposed boxes which dictate how local people should be engaged in planning decisions.

While large sections of the Bill provide a desirable and welcome devolution of power to local authorities, the LGA is concerned by several proposals which it believes will entrench greater authority in Whitehall. To rectify this issue it is seeking a number of amendments, including the reversal of measures which:

- Give Ministers hundreds of new powers to issue costly guidance and regulation.
- Dictate how much local authorities can borrow to invest in social housing.
- Require expensive local referenda be held at a cost of up to £300,000 per. referendum, even on issues of broad general support among the public and councillors.
- Hand Ministers the power to interfere with local democracy by altering the constitutional structure of councils.
- Pave the way for complex, bureaucratic and costly regulation governing planning and the use of community assets.
- Unfairly pass responsibility to councils for paying fines worth anything up to £1.2 billion levied by the EU for missing national environmental performance targets,

“At the moment the Localism Bill is something of a curate’s egg," Baroness Margaret Eaton, Chairman of the LGA, said.

"There are good bits and bad. The general power of competence offers a desirable devolution of power to local authorities but is being undermined by a number of measures which seek to entrench significant new powers in the hands of Ministers and Whitehall.

“Our analysis shows that elements of stealth centralism in the Bill will add vast administration costs to local authorities at a time when they are looking to focus spending on delivering frontline services. Sixty-eight million pounds is a lot of money and local people would much prefer to see it spent on caring for the elderly or keeping the streets clean rather than administering to the whims of Whitehall departments.

“With the amount of money councils receive from Government being cut by 28 per cent in real terms in the next four years Ministers must avoid introducing measures which divert resources into pointless, old-fashioned bureaucracy. Removing measures in the Bill which would hand Ministers more influence over the delivery of local services will eliminate the temptation to interfere, ensuring councils have greater freedom to respond to the wishes of local residents.”

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