Strengthening Local Democracy Briefing
Communities and Local Government (CLG) is consulting on proposals to promote democratic renewal and strengthen the power and responsibilities of local government in 5 areas:
2. Public services
3. Tackling climate change
4. Sub regional working
5. The role of local government and it's relationship to central government
The CLG consultation on Strengthening Local Democracy seeks to address a number of issues including:
• Restoring public confidence in national and local government
• Reducing the ‘inspection burden' placed on local government by central government
• Increasing efficiencies in local public spending
• Making public services more tailored to personal needs (‘personalisation')
• The proposed introduction of enforceable individual entitlements in public service delivery
Local authority powers of scrutiny
New proposals on this build on the measures to strengthen scrutiny contained in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill.
The consultation document argues that further strengthening the scrutiny powers of Local Authorities will enable them to act as a central point of accountability for local services and public spending. The government want to ensure that elected councillors have greater powers than unelected service providers. It also argues that scrutiny powers will be simplified by removing exceptions and limitations.
In the consultation paper the Government proposes to:
• Broaden scrutiny powers so that they could be applied to a range of other public services, such as probation, transport authorities, jobcentre plus and utility companies
• Allow Scrutiny Committees to make reports and recommendations to a wider range of bodies, that must be formally responded to by the agency in question
• Provide councils with the powers to require officers and board members to appear in front of the Scrutiny Committee
• Give local authorities a clear and central role in scrutinising public spending across all public services in an area
• Encourage or require Local Authorities to ensure they have sufficient resources to perform their scrutiny function including; staff, councillor involvement, training and support.
Local Authority powers and responsibilities over local public services
The government set out a range of proposals the follow on from a number of recent initiatives to give councils more control over public service; First, giving local authorities powers to charge a supplement on national business rates; Second, proposals to allow Local Authorities to keep money from the sale of council homes to reinvest in new housing; Third, moving funding for English language courses (£0.5 billion) from the Learning and Skills Council to local authorities.
In the consultation paper the Government proposes to:
• Move from the current target-based system of local services performance management, and towards one of ‘enforceable entitlements' . This could mean a reduction in the number of LAA targets
• Review local partnerships, and potentially streamline these so that only those that are currently useful continue
• Introduce new enabling powers for Local Authorities to allow them to set up and deliver new financial services (such as insurance or banking).
The consultation paper argues that the proposals will help reduce bureaucracy and the ‘inspection burden' placed on councils by continuing a process already started with Comprehensive Area Assessments to streamline inspection and reporting.
Tackling Climate change
The consultation paper proposes:
• A new role for local authorities in co-ordinating funding streams to support low carbon activity in local areas, possibly extending to influence over energy supplier obligations
• Support for local authorities who want to offer finance for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and ‘green mortgages'
• To empower authorities to deliver infrastructure plans
• To encourage local authorities to use their existing powers to tackle climate change, including energy efficiency standards in housing and reducing carbon emissions through their roles in planning and transport.
The consultation paper proposes that cross-authority partnerships, such as city regions, Multi Area Agreements (MAAs) and integrated transport authorities should:
• Be subject to scrutiny arrangements, and required to provide scrutiny committees with information and consider recommendations on sub-regional matters
• Be required to respond to public petitions to integrated transport authorities, economic prosperity boards, and other combined authorities
• Explore the potential for sub-regional partnerships to have formal public leadership structures, such as an elected Mayor (as in London), a council, its own scrutiny council and elected city regional leaders.
The consultation paper argues that these measures will strengthen and formalise sub-regional bodies, making them more visible and accountable to the public.
The roles and relationship between central and local government
The consultation paper supports proposals from the CLG Select Committee :
• That a set of principles defining the role of local government and its relationship with central government should be formally adopted
• To enforce this set of principles through a new ‘ombudsman-style arrangement' and a joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament
The consultation paper argues that if these proposals are adopted they will provide clarity about the role of local authorities, and provide a greater role for Parliament over influencing central-local relations.
The Strengthening Local Democracy consultation paper aims to not only strengthen local democracy and local councils, but also to provide local authorities with the powers they need in order to:
• Promote greater value for money for public services and reduce the burden of inspection
• Promote local economic development
• Respond to emerging challenges, particularly climate change and the shortage of affordable housing
• Take forward the agenda around the ‘personalisation' of local public services
• Strengthen the rights of citizens through their elected representatives.
You can read the Local Democracy Consultation document in full at:
Urban Forum will be responding to the consultation, and will be contacting members shortly to get their views.