Multi Level Governance

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The main powers of elected local governments.

In the UK local governments are at the mercy of the centeral power, this is because Britian uses a unitary system meaning that parliament can control local government through a number of different means.

  • Finance: The government can cap the levels of local taxation meaning they can limit the finances aviliable to the local councils.
  • Legislation: Centeral government has the power to limit the range of local government actitvities.
  • Inspections: Centeral government can inspect the delievery of local government services.
  • The Docterine of ultra Vires: Local authorities are only allowed to do what is authorised by law.  Anything else is ultra vires (beyond their authority)
  • Acting in default:  The centeral government can act in default meaning it can take control of any local authority. 
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Ultra vires and default.

During the 1980's faced with an extended period of conservative government in westminster, many labour controlled councils in urban areas sought to persue a socialist agenda in local level. These municiplical socialism provoked legal action and threats of default proceedings.

  • In 1982 Norwich council went all the way to the high court in protest of then Enviroment Secretary Michael Heseltine's implementation of the right to buy legislation- though the case lost and it led to threats of default proceedings.
  • In 1986 several labour councillers were sued £106000 having sent an illegal defecit budget. 
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The changing face of local government taxation.

The Rates

Until 1989 all UK local authorities levied rates.  This was aproperty based tax.  This meant that the owner of the house was given an annual rate based on the size of the house.  This penalised single elderly people living in large houses.

Community charge

The poll tax was introduced in 1990 in England and Wales and in 1989 in Scotland.  Conservatives argued that by making everyone pay the same amount would make local authorites more accountable for the services provided.  This would make citizens more interested in local government.

Council Tax

In order to overcome the hatred of the poll tax idea Michael Heseltine anounced plans to scrap the tax in 1991 and council tax was introduced in 1993.  This was a property based tax like the rates, but with significant concessions for those who were living alone or less able to pay.

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The evaluation of local governments

Political participtation

+  The existence of local government encourages people to get involved in making the decisions that will affect them.

- Participation rates in local government are extremely low and voter turnout is poor.


+  Local government can represent local people more effectively than Westminster

-  Councillers rarely have the resources or the time to represent local people properly.  Local government is amateurish.


+ Local councils know what the local area needs.  It makes sense to delegate power.

- Local governments often get lost in the detail and fail to see the bigger picture.  Centeral governments can generally be more objective and therefore more appropriate.

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The scottish Parliament

In the referendum of March 1979, Scots voted in favour of a devolved Parliament(51% to 48.4%), but the terms of the vote stated that there needed to be support from 40% of the electorate for the plans to go ahead.  With a turnout of only 63.8% the "yes" camp fell short of the margain required.  In September 1997 a second referendum ran on the basis of a simple majority of those voting.

The 1997 referendum:

The referendum took place in september 1997 presented the scottish electorate with two questions, whether there should be a scottish parliament; and whether the parliament should have tax-varying powers.  Voters eventually voted 63.5% to yes yes. 

Function and effectivness:

The scottish parliament took primary legislative control of areas suhc as education, agriculture and home affairs .  The second yes in the referendum also gave parliament income tax varying powers.  The SNP is the largest party in the scottish parliament after the 2007 elections.  It opted to run a minority administration, having failed to find a coalition partner willing to commit on the legislation on scottish independence.  The SNP came one step closer in the 2011 Scottish parliament elections when the result offered a prospect on full independence in the next five years.  Although the referendum would carry no legal oblications it would be difficult for the MP's at westminster to ignore it.

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The West Lothian question?

This phase was used by Enoch Powell in the 1970's as a way of summing up the concerns of the then MP for the scottish constituency of West Lothian, he concerns came across with the idea that the Labour government introduced in the 1970's of devolution.

1) Firstly why should MP's from such areas as Wales, Scotland and Northern Island be made to debate and vote on matters that no longer have any influence on them.

2) Secondaly, is it right that such MP's would no longer have the ability to vote on matters that had been devolved too seperate institutions.

The number of scottish MP's in westminster dropped from 72 to 59 in the run up of the 2005 election 

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The Welsh Assembly.

The referendum of March 1979 saw the welsh reject the idea of having their own parlliament by 79.7% and 20.3% on a 58.3% turnout.  By the time of 1997 the Labour party was focused on a new referendum this time on a creation of a assembly.


The Welsh aggreed to a creation of having a welsh assembly with the results of 50.3% to 49.7% on a 50.1% turnout a small margin.

Function and effectivness.

The assembly was not given the same powers as the scottish parliament.

It had no primary legislative powers but could reccomend them.

It is said to have secondary legislative powers.

It did not have the income tax varying powers.

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