A landmark bill that heralds a ground-breaking shift in power to councils and communities overturning decades of central government control wasunveiled by Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles today.
The Bill, laid before Parliament today, contains a radical package of reforms that will devolve greater power and freedoms to councils and neighbourhoods, establish powerful new rights for communities, revolutionise the planning system, and give communities control over housing decisions.
Speculation and conjecture about the roles likely to be hit, following the Localism Bill, will leave many staff feeling uncertain about their future. With projected job losses ranging from 70,000 to 140,000 it is vital that adequate support be given to staff at risk so that they can find another job, according to Hays, the leading recruiting expert.
For councils the Bill will fundamentally change their freedom to act in the interest of their local communities through a new general power of competence. Rather than needing to rely on specific powers, the new power will give councils the legal reassurance and confidence to innovate, drive down costs to deliver more efficient services.
Eric Pickles said: “The Localism Bill will herald a ground-breaking shift in power to councils and communities overturning decades of central government control and starting a new era of people power.
“It is the centrepiece of what this Government is trying to do to fundamentally shake up the balance of power in this country. For too long, everything has been controlled from the centre – and look where it’s got us. Central government has kept local government on a tight leash, strangling the life out of councils in the belief that bureaucrats know best.
“By getting out of the way and letting councils and communities run their own affairs we can restore civic pride, democratic accountability and economic growth – and build a stronger, fairer Britain. It’s the end of the era of big government: laying the foundations for the Big Society.”
The Localism Bill contains further measures to strengthen local democracy by:
Devolving significant new powers to councils – In a major transfer of power from Whitehall to town halls, councils will be freed from bureaucratic constraints with new freedoms and flexibilities to act in the best interests of their area. Councillors will have to approve and be required to publish new chief executive pay rules at full Council that management will have to follow. Councillors will no longer be prevented from voting on campaign issues; and there will be a new power to create directly elected mayors in 12 cities giving residents a say in a strong democratically elected leader.
Establishing powerful new rights for local people and communities – powers for councils are accompanied by greater powers for local people to hold their local authorities to account. Local people and communities’ will have real power and a bigger say over their area through a new right to challenge to take over services; a new right to bid to buy local assets such as libraries, pubs and shops; the a new right to veto excessive council tax rises through a referendum.
Creating powerful incentives for economic growth – The Bill will give local government a stronger financial stake in the local economy, helping rebalance the economy, so it is more entrepreneurial and attracts local business by allowing local authorities to grant discretionary business rate discounts; making small business tax breaks easier take advantage of; giving affected businesses a greater say in rate supplements and cancelling certain backdated business rates including port taxes;
Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark said:
“This Bill will provide the enduring legislative foundation for a new, decentralised Britain, where power is returned to the people to which it belongs. We believe that communities should have the freedom to manage their own affairs in their way, and be empowered, not suppressed, by Government. The Bill will enact new rights allowing local people to shape and influence the places where they live, revolutionising the planning process by passing power down to those who know best about their neighbourhoods.”
Housing Minister Grant Shapps added:
“With housebuilding at its lowest peacetime level since 1924, the time is right for radical shake up of the entire system. The Bill will end top-down targets – in their place communities with the vision and drive to build more homes will be given the freedom to achieve their ambitions, and this will be backed up with powerful cash incentives for councils that allow new development in their area.
“With five million people languishing on social housing waiting lists, social housing is ripe for reform. Councils will now be able to manage social housing in a way that genuinely meets the needs of local people, and will be able to offer fixed tenancies that give people the helping hand they need, for as long as they need it.”
Communities Minister, Andrew Stunell said:
“The Localism Bill will pave the way for the long overdue push of powers out of Whitehall to councils and neighbourhoods across the country, and give local communities real control over housing and planning decisions.
“Local facilities have been closing down all over the country, leaving towns and villages without vital services.
“Small community groups that are willing to take over local assets often find that they lack the time and resources to get a plan together and compete with the might and muscle of big business and developers.
“The powerful new rights in the Bill will put real power in the hands of real people, empowering local communities and putting them at the heart of local decision making.”
Andy Robling, Public Services Director at Hays says: “With a large deficit to tackle, the reduction of funds allocation is not unexpected but job cuts must be handled properly. Our research shows many public sector organisations understand the need to keep staff informed, that they are taking action to ensure the top team is visible and that they regularly communicate with individuals across the organisation, so that they understand reasons for change and input where necessary.
“Success depends on organisations supporting all employees through this period of transition – those who are made redundant, both emotionally and practically with finding a new job, as well as those who are left behind. With more workers than ever before moving out of the public sector it’s important to make sure those who are made redundant are able to identify where their transferable skills lie and how they can best present themselves to give them the greatest chances of finding a new role.”