The international body that overseas the European Convention on Human Rights has recommended giving more power to English local authorities, accusing central government of restricting their ability to carry out their duties.
The Council of Europe, founded in 1949, reports on the state of local democracy through its local government arm, the Congress, which assesses the application of the 1985 European Charter of Local Self-Government. This was ratified by the UK in 1998.
A new report 'Local and regional democracy in the United Kingdom' recommends greater devolution of powers to local government, increased tax-raising powers for councils and a fairer funding settlement for English local authorities.
The report concludes that:
- The ability of councils to provide "essential public services, quality health and social care and effective and adequate community services and facilities, especially to the growing number of older people" is under huge pressure following austerity measures.
- Whitehall should devolve powers to councils as "the ability of local authorities to discharge their responsibilities sometimes appears to be highly restricted by central government".
- Despite their own spending cuts, councils in Wales and Scotland are "better off financially than their English counterparts". The complex formula for distribution of central government funding produces "considerable uncertainty and effects of unequal treatment".
- A diversified base of local revenue is an "urgent necessity" with council tax "limited by central or devolved governments, due to the referendum obligation" while "all rates are decided by government and funding is still dominated by central government grants".
Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: "We feel this review is a fair reflection on the current pressures facing local government. The current model for financing and running local government needs to change and adapt to today's circumstances and it is important that local and central government works together to address these issues and takes these recommendations forward.
"Devolution of decision-making and tax-raising powers to local areas is needed to help save money and improve services and English communities need to be given the same significant say over everything from health services to public transport as they do across the border in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."