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I thank all the members of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government for this timely and relevant report on the balance of power between central and local government in England. Since the Committee first raised the issue, at least three Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government have had the chance to comment on it-I am happy to be the fourth.
First of all, despite the somewhat discouraging comments made by Sir Paul Beresford, I believe that very significant progress has been made over the past 12 years in the move away from centralisation. Such centralisation has happened for more than a century, as other hon. Members pointed out, and in many levels of government-it applies not only to the relationship between local and central Government. My hon. Friend Dr. Starkey, the Chairman of the Committee, alluded to centralisation in her speech and made some telling points on the need to balance it with the variable delivery on the ground that could happen without it. That is at the heart of the problem that we are addressing today. Centralisation was at least in part driven in an attempt to reduce variation in delivery and increase accountability in the public services, which make such a huge difference to the lives of everyone in this country. The public services that local government delivers are the ones that make us angry or happy-they are the ones that touch our lives most personally.
I pay tribute to the way in which local government has risen to the recent downturn. Specifically in the region for which I have ministerial responsibility, the East of England, but also across the country, I have seen the magnificent response by local authorities as they rally round to help individuals and businesses at this very difficult time.
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