A shift in the way services are d elivered was heralded yesterday when Local Government Secretary Ruth Kelly admitted too much red tape had been imposed on councils.
Ministers have appointed Michael Frater, chief executive of Telford and Wrekin Council, to chair a taskforce which will abolish targets and restrictions.
Ms Kelly admitted Labour had "got into the habit" of introducing new initiatives and taskforces instead of letting councils get on with their job.
But in a speech to the Local Government Association in Bournemouth, attended by Paul Tilsley, deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, she stressed once again that authorities needed "strong and accountable leadership" if they were to receive new powers.
She said: "Elected mayors have shown that clear and visible leadership can resonate with citizens and it is a model t hat I think has many attractions."
In her speech, Ms Kelly claimed Ministers had been forced to impose a "top down" approach on local councils because so many of them had been doing a poor job.
But she suggested the Local Government White Paper, expected in October, would radically change the relation-ship between councils and central government.
She said: "When we came into office in 1997 we took some tough action because, to be frank, there was an urgent need for investment from the centre and for improved performance in the delivery of local public services on the ground."
She added: "But governments, just like people, fall into habits. And we got into the habit of responding to too many new challenges with what some would call a centralising measure.
"A ring fenced grant. A new initiative. A new central unit. At first, prevailing wisdom said that innovation and change would only come from the top-down.
"But experience has shown that real change needs to be bottom up - national initiative combined with local owner-ship, commitment and energy."
But Caroline Spelman (Con Meriden), shadow local government secretary, accused Ms Kelly of "warm words".
She said: "I welcome the lightening of this burden that's imposed on councils. But she's got to square the circle of how her Government has drawn up powers from local government to regional government when, in another breath, she's talking about devolving power.
"It all hinges on whether Ruth Kelly is willing to return the powers to local councils that were stripped away.
"Until those powers come back to local government, which is genuinely accountable to people, I think these are just warm words." ..SUPL: