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Westminster Council wants to be set free

CllrBarrow2010-1277811062 Cllr Colin Barrow, the leader of Westminster City Council, on the goal of self-sufficiency

This morning Grant Shapps set councils the challenge of seizing the freedoms and opportunities that they are being given to get on and deliver what’s important to local communities without seeking the sort of submissive permission that came to characterise central/local relations in recent years.

In Westminster we are and is why we are developing the goal of becoming self-sufficient.

This means that the council will move, as far as possible, so that it is no longer dependent upon hand-outs from central government and is free from Whitehall regulations. However, becoming self-sufficient also means that, in turn, the council reduces its own bureaucracy and grip on citizens and communities, allowing them greater freedom to get on with their lives without the sort of state intrusion that has become prevalent in the last decade.

How will we achieve this?

First, self-sufficiency from central government.

We recognise that the bedrock of self sufficiency is having the ability and resources to make our own decisions.

We recognise that funding is crucial which is why the council will throw its support behind the establishment of an independent review of city finance that will consider early next year how cities can become far more self-reliant in raising and generating their own funds.

We must also be able to cover the true costs of delivering the services that we provide so that it is fair to all involved. For example, local taxpayers currently subsidise the planning service in Westminster to the tune of £5m every year. Don’t get me wrong, simply raising taxes, charges and fees is not the way forward which is why we will also look at other innovative ways of raising funds including new social finance models.

Also, despite the welcome abolition of the Audit Commission and CAA regime, we are still enmeshed in regulation from departments across Whitehall. We comply with 2,500 rules and requirements costing Westminster nearly £1m each year. These must go and we will help government to identify and eradicate such wasteful bureaucracy.

Second, freeing our communities.

We also recognise the need to put our own house in order and examine where we, as a council, can remove the barriers of bureaucracy that stand in the way of residents and businesses.

We will push forward with personalisation in areas that have not previously been considered to allow citizens and their carers to make their own choices about the services they receive.

We will develop the next stage of Business Improvement District agenda encouraging businesses to develop an even greater connection with the communities in which they operate.

We will deliver a Westminster version of the Big Society that will see the council becoming an enabler in freeing communities and voluntary groups to play a far greater role in civic society. However, there is much that we ourselves can do now to reduce the burden we impose on individuals, businesses and communities.

That is why we will conduct a full audit of our own regulations not dependent upon national legislation with the intention that they are scrapped – in future there will be a presumption against any new regulation unless it simplifies or reduces existing levels – this will be known as our Red Tape Commitment.

Working with the police and Mayor, we will get out of people’s way, quite literally, by looking to switch off 25 sets of traffic lights where there are no safety implications.

We will simplify the process and procedures for community groups wanting to organise local events. We will also look to implement at the local level the recent review of health and safety legislation.

We will look to reform our housing allocation system to make it streamlined, fairer and more transparent to residents. To tackle this we will look straight away to abolish the resource-intensive general housing register.

We recognise that these measures are just the start of reducing our own bureaucracy and setting our own communities free which is why we will push forward with our Red Tape Commitment over the coming months.

I am clear though, as central government cuts and reduces bureaucracy then local government must do the same. Only in this way will we set communities free and end the all-invasive grip that has become synonymous with the state, both local and national, in recent times.


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