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Tories move against Town Hall snoopers and Regional Assemblies

Wallace Mark Wallace of the Taxpayers Alliance welcomes Conservative local government policy getting more edge - but he wants more details

It’s taken a while for the election debate to move from providing mood to meat, but at last we are starting to hear some more details about what might happen in local government should David Cameron be elected Prime Minister.

This weekend alone there have been two items of pretty good news about the Conservatives’ plans.

First, Caroline Spelman unveiled plans to change the law so that council officers would need a proper warrant to raid people’s homes. This is a great step – particularly given the recent findings of Big Brother Watch that over 14,700 (and perhaps as many as 20,000) officials currently have invasive powers of entry to private residences.

The growing scope of the state to barge into homes has caused unnecessary and outrageous disruption to people’s lives and has harmed the reputation of councils as a group. Putting such raids back into a legal structure that properly respects privacy and individual freedom is an important step to rebalancing the relationship between the people and councils.

It is important to note that this policy is not only right, but it is also in keeping with the principles of localism. Critics of localism often suggest that it requires there to be no Westminster policies at all. However, this is a good example of Westminster’s proper role in setting the overarching terms of how local government operates – not by meddling in individual councils’ policy decisions but by laying down a sensible legal structure to protect the rights of the individual and ensure that all are equal under the law.

Also encouraging, but still not entirely clear, are the recent comments about the possible demise of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), reported in Kent’s News on Sunday and the Northern Echo.

It has been clear for a very long time that the RDAs are ineffective and unwanted – very much like John Prescott, that champion of regionalisation. Our own research has shown that they have failed on almost every one of their own stated aims, and even Gordon Brown has started to cut back their budgets.

It seems increasingly likely that a Conservative Government would mean an end to the RDAs, but there is still some evasion over whether they would be abolished outright or whether councils in each region would have to band together and collectively choose to get rid of them. Certainly the RDAs themselves have been keeping very quiet now that they are in purdah about their possible future.

It’s great that Ken Clarke is talking about RDAs having to go, but long-term quango spotters will feel uneasy at the proposal of replacing them with “panels of local authority leaders and business people”, which sound worryingly like the old Regional Assemblies.

The phoney war has lasted for months now – but at last we are starting to see some detail.


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