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A super-quango is born

Stuart Weir
28 July 2008

Stuart Weir (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): Local government in England is neither local, government nor representative.  Local authorities are ruled from above by central government departments and major quangos.  At last, with the granting of royal assent for the the creation of the Homes and Communities Agency - a merger of the former Housing Corporation and English Partnerships - the shape of effective regional and local governance is now clear. It sets the seal on a troika of power that is accountable, though imperfectly, only upwards: this new super-quango, regional development agencies and the government's regional offices will now rule between them.  Yes, there is provision for deals with the larger local authorities - some of them with populations of over a million - but the real power rests with the regional quango state.

The new super-quango will be in control of a multi-million pound budget, will have powers to seize land and enter private property and will effectively act as its own planning authority. Bob Kerslake, the new super-boss, recently sought to allay fears of dictatorial use of such powers in an evidence session in Parliament, but the trick of having a big stick is never having to use it.  The government has agreed that the quango's funds and powers should be used to help achieve local development targets, rather than central government ambitions. But what is the difference?  These 'local' targets are themselves largely the result of central and regional government planning guidance and non-elected partnerships guided by the old Housing Corporation and government's regional offices.  The government is severely restricting the ability of local authorities to maintain their social housing stock and build new social housing.  That role is being diverted to another set of quangos - registered housing associations, many of them huge enterprises themselves.

Oh, ands just in case a local authority and its community get above themselves and actually challenge a major development that UK Limited needs, the another super quango - the Infrastructure Commission - will take over and decide the outcome.  But not to worry. The minister John Healey says that the chair and deputies will be appointed in an open and transparent manner.

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