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November 1, 2011

Look south for lesson in localism

Opportunities to enjoy the benefits of hindsight are rare.  But the chance to do just that has presented itself to the Scottish Government in relation to its plans to legislate on community empowerment.  The passage of the Coalition Government’s Localism Bill through the committee stages is worth keeping tabs on.  Some of the ambitious early content of the bill looks to be falling foul of vested interests and the harsh realities of what is actually practical

1. Government scraps plans for local referendums

Public Finance, 19th Oct 2011

The government has dropped provisions in the Localism Bill that would have enabled small local groups to call referendums.

Speaking as the House of Lords debated the Bill, local government minister Baroness Hanham said she had ‘listened to the concerns and anxieties that were raised… about the expense’ and decided ‘local referendums do not need to have a place within this Bill’.

The clauses would have allowed just 5% of voters in an electoral ward to trigger a non-binding local referendum on any subject.

Hanham’s climbdown followed objections from all the main parties.

2. Right to challenge falls foul of local authorities

Local groups say there should be a maximum period of time for councils to consider their bids to run public services, according to consultation

A consultation on the community right to challenge has demonstrated a divide between voluntary groups and local authorities over whether councils should be given a set period of time in which they would have to consider local groups’ expressions of interest.

The right to challenge, under which local groups could challenge public bodies that deliver public services by putting in a bid to deliver those services themselves, is a key part of the Localism Bill.

The consultation on the proposal asked local authorities, voluntary and community groups, parish councils and other groups for feedback on its planned introduction.

A summary of the consultation responses, published by the Communities and Local Government department last week, shows respondents were asked whether there should be a maximum period in which councils must make a decision on the bids.

It shows all 25 of the voluntary groups that responded said there should be. However, 35 of 59 local authorities that responded said there should not.

Asked whether there should be a minimum period for councils to make a decision on the bids, 59 of the 70 council respondents said there should not, but 16 of 28 voluntary groups said there should.

The document also shows nine respondents warned of the risk that external groups would “cherry-pick” services or parts of services that could be more cheaply or easily delivered or could be more lucrative. This would leave councils delivering “a less sustainable, more expensive or unviable part of the service”, it says.

The Localism Bill is currently before parliament and is due to be debated in the House of Lords once the recess ends next month.