Local Government White Paper

I can't disagree with the title of the Government's long-awaited White Paper on local government: "Strong and Prosperous Communities". But having waded through all 230 pages and two volumes, I doubt that's what the proposals will achieve.

The good news is that compulsory unitary local government - the abolition of either district or county councils - is off the agenda. Less government at lower cost was superficially attractive, but in reality the cost of reorganisation in England could have been as high as £3.5 billion.

My fear was that we wouldn't have lost a layer of local government at all - it would merely have resurfaced at the regional level, taking the say further away from local communities.

And that's my biggest beef with the White Paper: it talks about "empowered communities" and greater accountability, but it does nothing to prevent decisions on issues such as our roads or housing numbers being taken by the unaccountable and unelected South East England Regional Assembly.

Its promise of "responsive services" is hard to swallow when the most vital services, our local hospitals, are under threat of downgrading or closure. Frankly, we aren't feeling very "empowered" in West Sussex right now.

I welcome the pledge to cut Whitehall's 1,200 directives to councils, although I'll believe it when I see it, and I'm all in favour of more power to parish councils.

But I want local communities to have real power and a real say - and that means relaxing the Government's grip and giving councils control over the purse-strings. This week I've supported a new Sustainable Communities Bill which will do just that.

Local authorities could work out their own spending plans. Instead of being milked as a cash cow for the Treasury, West Sussex councils could decide for themselves how to shape local services.

Now that really would empower local communities.

Michelle Taylor