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January 15, 2008

New Petition Power in England

Measures are being proposed in England which will require Councils to respond to petitions submitted by local people. If the Council response is unsatisfactory – local councillors will have the power to trigger a special `select committee` style hearing.


Communities Secretary Hazel Blears today launched radical proposals to make people’s voices heard on the key issues they care most about, such as tackling anti-social behaviour, helping older people or improving local parks.
Under these proposals, councils would be required to respond to petitions submitted by local people, which could be on any issue for which the local council has responsibility, from abandoned vehicles to youth services.
Currently there is no requirement for councils to respond to petitions, no matter how many people sign up. But under these proposals, councils would be legally required to respond to any petition gaining significant local support.
Under the proposed new measures if the council ignores the petition or the response is unsatisfactory, they could ask their local councillor to trigger a ‘select committee’ style hearing within the local authority to ensure that an issue affecting the people living or working in his or her ward is raised and debated, under the new “councillor call for action”, which Parliament recently passed.

Adding the duty on local councils to respond to petitions to the call for action will give people an additional, direct route to ensuring that their concerns and ideas are considered properly by those who have the power to do something about them.

Petitions already have legal teeth in Germany, the United States, Canada, Sweden, Italy and New Zealand and a recent survey found only two countries in Europe were found to sign petitions more than Britons. If approved, the plans could come into force from as early as next year, or later if legislation is required.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said:
“We have a rich history of writing and signing petitions: 60 per cent of us do so each year, but do we have a rich enough history of answering and responding to them? These new powers would mean the concerns of local people can no longer be filed away and ignored, and ensure we have a more responsive culture.

“Governments are elected to serve the people, and that applies locally as well as nationally. New petition powers would put more influence, power and control in the hands of communities, leading to greater action to tackle their concerns and improving the health of our local democracy.
“Giving local people a greater say is not a threat to local government’s legitimacy – good councils actually do this already. Listening to the concerns and priorities of the people who use local services can only strengthen our local democracy.”