The 100-year- old delinquent

24th January 2003 at 00:00
What does the 21st century hold for LEAs? Four experts offer their predictions

This is a centenary worth celebrating. The achievements of local education authorities are immense. Millions of people have good reason to be thankful - as pupils or parents, further education college or university students, or as adult learners.

What, then, of the future? I hope for two things. First, an end to central government's managerialism, which, however well intentioned, has almost destroyed the vigour and quality of local government. Are enough of the best education professionals going into LEAs? Are the best representatives of our diverse population standing at council elections? No to both.

In 1996, Lord Hunt's report on local government concluded that "the centre has moved beyond its capacity". This is even truer now. Audit Commission chair James Strachan commented recently that central government has imposed too many targets, many of them ill-founded. The Government's own Performance and Innovation Unit has deplored "the number and extent of narrowly focused plans required from local authorities which severely inhibit joined-up action".

Even the French government has acknowledged its own "technocratic delusion" in trying to govern from Paris without the checks and balances - and knowledge - of the regions and communes.

My second hope is for constitutional reform to secure the role of local government. Elsewhere in Europe, basic law prevents central government riding roughshod over its local and regional partners. In an advanced society, formal voice needs to be given to a wide range of people and interest groups.

Not everyone of talent and public sensibility lives and works in London.

The release of civic energy and creative problem-solving would amaze us all if local government was properly constituted.

There should be powers of general competence, allied to locally raised and accountable funds, rather than the specific grants and micro-level policies currently imposed.

In other words, can we grow up please? A mature relationship between central and local government is needed if LEAs are to be part of the solution to many complex problems, rather than a troublesome (100-year-old) delinquent.

Margaret Maden is a visiting professor at Keele University. She is a former chief education officer for Warwickshire.

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