As my hon. Friend knows, the statutory independence of local government is set out in various Local Government Acts, and we are committed to the principle of local self-government. I want to ensure that we have the right balance of power and responsibility between central and local government, and I will shortly launch a consultation that will explore those issues. I want, in particular, to explore how democratically elected local authorities can influence all public spending on public services in their area.
In finding the right balance to set local authorities free from what is, in effect, the most heavily centralised state in the democratic nations of the world, will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity perhaps to join Conservative Front Benchers and stop chaining local government, to set it free, and to allow it both the powers and the finance to look after as much of its own affairs as is possible?
I think that my hon. Friend will accept that we have done a great deal to give powers to local authorities: they have had the three-year funding settlement, the amount of ring-fencing has been reduced, and the number of targets has been reduced. As I said earlier, I now want to embark on the next stage by ensuring that local authorities have the powers that mean that when somebody elects a local councillor they are electing someone who can genuinely influence public services in their area. However, it is also important that there are some minimum entitlements to the quality of service. We need to ensure that we balance the rightful, powerful place of local authorities with people’s rights to decent services, wherever they live.
If the right hon. Gentleman is straightforward in this—and I am sure that he is—will he look carefully at the democratic deficit that would occur if there were a reorganisation of local government in Suffolk, which would mean either that the county of Suffolk took away the powers from locally elected people and covered an area stretching from Mildenhall across to my constituency instead of having real local authorities, or a change to an invented local authority with which nobody has any connection at all?
I obviously hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. He knows that I am awaiting the report of the inquiry into that matter, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment, but I assure him that Ministers will give proper consideration to the results of those considerations.