GOVERNMENT UNDERMINES TOWN AND PARISH COUNCILS IN NEW CONSULTATION ON LOCAL DEMOCRACY
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GOVERNMENT UNDERMINES TOWN AND PARISH COUNCILS IN NEW CONSULTATION ON LOCAL DEMOCRACY

A new consultation on strengthening local democracy has some good ideas, but sidelines the most local councils of all, parish and town councils, according to Mid Worcestershire MP, Peter Luff.
He says the real way to strengthen local democracy is by increasing local control over planning.

Peter has written to all the parish and town councils in his constituency, urging them to study and respond to a new consultation launched by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Responses must be with the government by October 2nd.

Commenting, Peter said,

“It is quite extraordinary that in a 58-page document, the first mention of parish councils comes in the Annex on page 55 where parish councils are described as organisations that can be required to provide information to larger councils, and who can be summonsed to appear before scrutiny committees of those councils. On page 56 they are described as bodies to which those larger local councils can make recommendations.

“Parish and town councils are the foundation stones of local democracy – they are simply not there just to provide information for, to appear before and to do the bidding of larger councils.

“It is essential that the parish councils of Worcestershire rise up in protest against this document and demand greater rights for the people they represent, and protest against any new duties to report to district and county councils.”

In his letter to parish councils, Peter also comments on the way in which planning powers are being exercised by government in an increasingly undemocratic way,

“You will know I have been very concerned recently about the way in which the planning system appears to be becoming less and less democratic giving local communities served by parish and town councils less control over their lives, not more. There may be other issues that concern your council but I do encourage you to respond to this consultation as a council before the closing date.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

The government website (http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/localdemocracyconsultation) describes the consultation in these terms
This consultation explores whether local government has the powers it needs to meet today's challenges, as part of the Government's drive to renew Britain's democracy and build trust in the political system at all levels. It sets out a range of proposals to promote democratic renewal and strengthen the power and responsibility of local government by:
• giving councils more scope to scrutinise the spending and decisions of local service providers;
• exploring whether there are barriers to using existing powers and whether there are other powers which councils should have;
• ensuring councils have the powers and responsibilities they need to tackle climate change;
• exploring how the powers and responsibilities of sub-regional structures should be matched by clear and accountable leadership; and
• exploring how to articulate, develop and support the relationship between central and local government so that respective functions are clear and transparent to citizens.

The consultation asks these questions:

Summary of consultation questions
CHAPTER 1: LOCAL GOVERNMENT AT THE CENTRE OF DECISION MAKING
1. Do you agree that we should extend scrutiny powers in relation to Local Area Agreement (LAA) partners to cover the range of their activities in an area, not just those limited to specific LAA targets?
2. Do we need to make scrutiny powers more explicit in relation to local councils’ role in scrutinising expenditure on delivery of local public services in an area? If so, what is the best way of achieving this?
3. Do you agree that we should bring all or some of the local public services as set out in this chapter fully under the local authority scrutiny regime? Are there other bodies who would benefit from scrutiny from local government?
4. How far do you agree that we should extend scrutiny powers to enable committees to require attendance by officers or board members of external organisations to give evidence at scrutiny hearings, similar to the powers already in existence for health and police?
5. What more could be done to ensure that councils adequately resource and support the local government scrutiny function to carry out its role to full effect?
6. How can council leaders ensure that scrutiny is a core function of how their organisations do business and have a full and proper role in scrutinising the full range of local public services?
7. What more could be done to better connect and promote the important role of local government scrutiny to local communities, for example citizens as expert advisers to committees?
CHAPTER 2: STRONG LOCAL GOVERNMENT OPERATING IN THE LOCAL INTEREST
8. How best should any reduction in numbers of LAA targets ensure that services are responsive to the most important local needs and priorities as well as national entitlements?
9. Should councils have a power to engage in mutual insurance arrangements?
10. Are there other powers need to cover engagement in further complex arrangements of a possibly speculative nature outside of existing powers?
11. Do you agree that greater powers should be premised on demonstration of local confidence? How should this be demonstrated? How can councils best reverse the decline in confidence?
12. Are there core issues that should have greater council control which councils believe they are currently prevented from undertaking? If so what are they and what is the case for councils to take on these roles?
13. Do you agree that there should be a review of the structure of local partnerships with a view to identifying unhelpful overlap and duplication? Are there particular issues on which such a review should focus?
CHAPTER 3: LOCAL AUTHORITIES TACKLING CLIMATE CHANGE
14. How is the current national indicator system working to incentivise local authorities to take action on climate change? Should Government take new steps to enable local authorities to play a greater role in this agenda?
15. Where can local authorities add most value in meeting climate change aims, and what should Government do to help them do so, giving consideration to the proposals set out in this chapter?
16. How do we ensure that national policies reinforce local efforts – for example, around transport, renewable energy, and energy efficiency?
CHAPTER 4: SUB-REGIONAL WORKING
17. Should the activity of sub-regional partnerships be required to be subject to scrutiny arrangements?
18. Should councils’ joint overview and scrutiny committees be able to require sub-regional bodies to provide them with information on the full range of their activities and to consider their recommendations on sub-regional matters?
19. Should the duty to respond to petitions be extended to sub-regional bodies?
20. Do current and planned models for joint working give people a clear enough voice in decisions that are made sub-regionally?
21. How could we go further to make existing and planned city- and sub-regional structures more accountable, in addition to the suggestions in this document?
22. Should we give more powers and responsibilities to city- and sub-regions? If so, what powers or responsibilities should be made available?
23. Is there a need for direct democratic accountability at the sub-regional level?
What would be the best means of achieving this, giving consideration to the options set out above?
CHAPTER 5: CLEAR RELATIONSHIPS WITH LOCAL GOVERNMENT
24. Should central and local government’s roles be more formally established?
25. What are your views on the draft principles set out above as away of achieving this ambition?
26. Do you agree that an ombudsman-style arrangement and a joint select committee of both Houses of Parliament are the correct approaches to oversee and enforce these principles, if adopted?


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