Localism Bill will give citizens more powers to challenge councils

Author: David Williams, Public Finance   |  

Details of the forthcoming Localism Bill have been revealed in the government’s business plan for the Department for Communities and Local Government, published today.

Prime Minister David Cameron launched the first annual programmes of action for each department this morning, claiming the documents would help shift power from Whitehall into the hands of ordinary people across the country.

According to the DCLG’s plan, the Localism Bill, due to be published later this month, will enable citizens to veto ‘excessive’ council tax rises. Residents will also have the right to: instigate local referendums on ‘any local issue’; ‘save local facilities threatened with closure’; and ‘bid to take over local state-run services’.

In addition, the department intends the Bill to include provisions to ‘increase? local democratic accountability over decisions on local government senior pay’, and to scrap ‘bin taxes’.

As widely expected, the Bill will introduce a General Power of Competence for councils and reform the housing revenue account. However, the plan acknowledges that the department has missed its July 2010 deadline for publishing the results of consultation on HRA reforms.

The Bill will also set in motion plans to hold referendums on elected mayors in each of England’s 12 largest cities. Residents will be allowed to vote on whether to adopt a mayoral system in May 2012.

The DCLG plan also gives a clear indication that ministers plan to introduce pooled cross-public sector budgets nationally by 2013.

According to the department’s timetable, it will ‘create conditions for all places to pool and align locally controlled public budgets’ from April 2011, as the first 16 community budgets are introduced.

The first 16 will be evaluated in November 2012. If they prove successful, the department plans to ‘implement community budgets across the country’ from January 2013.

Cameron said the business plans were not top-down Whitehall targets, but instead were about ‘running Whitehall effectively so public services are steered by the people who work in them responding to the people who use them’.

He added: ‘It is not about controlling everything from the centre ? but running the centre effectively so it does what the coalition agreement says: put more power in people’s hands.’

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