A CAMPAIGN launched in Oxford that calls on Westminster to devolve more powers back to local government has been backed by the leader of Oxfordshire County Council.

Cllr Liz Leffman backed the Unlock Democracy campaign, Turning the Tide, saying councillors were ‘constrained’ by central government – particularly when it came to issues of funding.

The Lib Dem, a ward councillor for Charlbury and Wychwood, was at the launch of the new initiative at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, this week – alongside Unlock Democracy council member and former MEP and Oxfordshire councillor Catherine Bearder.

Speaking after the event, Cllr Leffman said: “The reason I’m supporting it is because I see just how constrained local councillors are by decisions made by central government.”

She added: “One of the things as local government we have been asked to do is provide services to some of the most vulnerable people but we haven’t been given the [resources] by government to do this and the dialogue between central government and local government on this isn’t in my opinion strong enough. There needs to be a much greater understanding of the constraints we are dealing under.

“Local government has had its powers eroded over several decades, really. For example, we used to be responsible for education. Now, we have no real responsibility for education at all. That’s all really dealt with by the secretary of state. Effectively, there’s nobody between the school and the secretary of state where local people can have their views heard.”

The council leader said Whitehall’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic showed the benefits of local government expertise.

Describing the government’s test and trace system as an ‘expensive mistake’, she said councils had had ‘much better results’ in finding those who may have tested positive for the virus or come into contact with infected people.

The Green Party’s Cllr Robin Bennett, cabinet member for economic development at South Oxfordshire District Council, supported the move

“The powers of local government have been eroded throughout my lifetime and as a South Oxfordshire councillor I’ve had direct experience of central government intervening with decisions with South Oxfordshire’s local plan,” he said.

“What we’ve really seen in the pandemic in particular is that you need responsive local organisations that are connected to local communities and centralised government can’t provide that.”

The Unlock Democracy campaign aims to get local councillors to sign a pledge to ‘turn the tide on centralisation of power in Whitehall’.

Tom Brake, director of the campaign group said: “Local Councils are flexible and act quickly and decisively. They are closer to communities than Whitehall and should be allowed a greater say in what happens locally. That is why we are launching this campaign together.”

Research commissioned by Unlock Democracy from academics at De Montford University claimed to show that over the past 40 years councils had been ‘hollowed out’. Arianna Giovannini, associate professor of local politics and public policy at the Leicester university, said: “Local government has been weakened by a thousand cuts to its funding, powers, accountability, services and size – with huge negative impacts on local communities.”