A local matter

LOCALISM can be a brutish business. It is all very well for power to be devolved to local authorities, but the Government is going further and asking them to accept the responsibility that goes with it. If councils are to take many of the decisions on cutting public spending, then they will have to take much of the blame as well.

This is especially hard for town halls to accept when they perceive the Government to be changing the rules of the game. Instead of spreading their 28 per cent budget reductions evenly over four years, councils are now being told to make 14 per cent savings in the first year.

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This will not be easy for any local authority. But will it really result in carnage among front-line services, with a damaging knock-on effect on the private sector, as Labour councils are claiming?

The good thing, from the public's point of view, is that it will soon be easier to tell. Before the cuts take effect in April, councils are being told to publish details of all expenditure of more than 500, the idea being that this will impel councils to cut non-essential spending rather than popular services. Whether this works remains to be seen. But if the steady erosion of local-authority power that has taken place over the past 30 years is to be reversed, then councils must learn to take hard decisions and be answerable for them to the public.