Localism Bill Amendments briefing
On 13 December the Government published the Localism Bill, setting out plans it says will give communities and local government greater powers and freedom from Whitehall. Alongside the Bill, they also published an ‘essential guide to decentralisation' explaining what they wanted to achieve, why and how.
The Bill has passed through the House of Commons and is currently in committee stage in the House of Lords (as of 12 July).
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles tabled 237 amendments to the Bill on 11 May, the relevant of which are summarised in this briefing.
Community Right to Challenge
The Government consulted on the Community Right to Challenge and Community Right to Buy. You can see Urban Forum's consultation response here.
Proposed amendments to the Right to Challenge:
• The Secretary of State may also do anything appropriate to give advice or assistance to community groups seeking to submit an expression of interest to take over a service or participate in a procurement exercise. This may include providing financial assistance.
• An amendment was proposed which would require local authorities to take into account whether an expression of interest to run a public service would not only benefit the area's social, economic and environmental well-being, but would also promote or improve local equality. This addition was promoted by Urban Forum in our consultation response, as well as by organisations like the Equality and Human Rights Council; however it does not appear to have made it to the next stage of the Bill.
Community Right to Buy
The Community Right to Buy is now known as ‘Assets of Community Value' in the Localism Bill, perhaps in recognition of consultation responses (such as our own) which suggested that ‘right to buy' was a misnomer. There is still some debate going on as to whether community assets could be recognised for potential future benefit as opposed to past or current use.
A private members bill sponsored by Zac Goldsmith was introduced that aims to make local referenda binding upon local authorities, but this measure has not received widespread support. (See Urban Forum's briefing on local referenda here)
Proposed amendments include:
• Local authorities may hold no more than one referendum every five years. The right to hold a local referendum replaces the duty placed on local authorities to respond to petitions, except when the petition is calling for a local referendum.
• Other proposed amendments include allowing local authorities to refuse to run a referendum if it will be too expensive to hold (a cost of more than 5% of the council's received council tax), or if there is a process in place for a consultation on the matter. Another provision would prevent referenda from taking place on planning decisions.
General Power of Competence
• The Secretary of State may amend, repeal or revoke any pre-existing statutory provisions which prevent local authorities from exercising the general power of competence, except for a list of 48 functions. The intention of the safeguards is to make sure that any policies made through invoking the general power of competence are proportionate to their objectives, that a balance is struck between public and individual interests and that policies do not remove any necessary protections or impinge on reasonable freedoms.
Directly Elected Mayors
• Local authorities with a directly elected mayor must reduce the overall number of elected councillors to one third of the current number.
• The provision requiring city councils to appoint shadow mayors, prior to referenda on whether to convert council leaders to executive mayors, has been scrapped.
• The minimum number of people required to set up a neighbourhood forum will be raised from three to 21 (residents, councillors and/or those working in the area), and the purpose of the neighbourhood forum can be to promote business in the area, as well as furthering well-being.
• Another amendment would allow neighbourhood forums that spread across official local authority boundaries.
• Neighbourhood forums can be established with the aim of ‘promoting the carrying on of trades, professions or other businesses' in the neighbourhood area.
• Amendments tabled in the House of Lords would require the passing of two referenda - by residents as well as local businesses - for neighbourhood plans to be adopted. If one group supports the development plans but the other does not, the local authority will have to intervene.
For all of Urban Forum's recent work on the Localism Bill, please go to our Localism Bill policy page