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Wednesday 7 November 2007

Communities and Local Government

Baby Changing Facility

The Petition of Tracy Taplin, residents of Canvey Island and others,

Declares that the existing public facilities on Canvey Island are inadequate for the needs of those with small children, and notes that Castle Point Borough Council has a de facto duty to provide and maintain suitable public facilities, particularly in a busy shopping area, such as Canvey’s excellent shopping centre.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons entreats the Government to bring pressure to bear on Castle Point Borough Council to provide a baby changing unit at a suitable location in Canvey Island’s shopping centre.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Bob Spink , Official Report, 24 July 2007; Vol 463, c 809.] [P000046]

Observation from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

The provision of public conveniences is at the discretion of local authorities. This is therefore a matter for Castle Point Borough Council.

The Department for Communities and Local Government does however recognise that the provision and upkeep of public conveniences is a service valued by many people.

The Department is therefore working with the British Toilet Association and others with a view to developing a strategy that will improve public access to toilets for all members of the public, including those with small children, but will not be introducing legislation to impose a duty on local authorities to provide and maintain public toilets.

Council Tax

The Petition of residents of the Taunton constituency and others,

Declares that the Petitioners are extremely concerned that the determination of Council Tax levels in Taunton Deane and nationally do not fairly reflect the ability of citizens to pay.

Further notes that pensioners and those on a low income are especially disadvantaged as they have to pay a larger proportion of their income towards Council Tax than those with higher incomes.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to abolish the Council Tax and replace it with a system that reflects the ability to pay.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Mr. Jeremy Browne , Official Report, 18 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 396.] [P000047]

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Observation from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

The Government recognises that council tax provokes strong feelings amongst pensioners and those on low incomes. The extensive public consultation that Sir Michael Lyons carried out as part of his independent inquiry showed that clearly. Sir Michael's careful and in-depth examination of the funding of local government nonetheless concluded that council tax is not broken and recommended that it should be retained. The Government supports that conclusion.

As Sir Michael confirmed, there is a strong economic case for retaining a local property tax and council tax itself has a number of significant practical advantages. For example, its yield is predictable and stable and it is relatively easy to collect because properties (unlike people) cannot disappear. It also strongly reinforces the accountability of local authorities to their communities, and helps provide a link between the tax people pay and the benefits they take from local services.

The local authority sets the overall council tax level for their area. However, the tax system does reflect individuals' ability to pay by providing, through council tax benefit, reductions of up to 100 per cent on bills for those on low incomes.

More specifically for pensioners, the Government has done a great deal to improve pension incomes since 1997, spending around £11 billion more on pensioners in 2007-08 than if 1997 policies had continued. The average pensioner household will be around £1,500 per year, or £29 per week, better off in real terms in 2007-08 due to the Government's personal tax and benefit changes than they would have been under the 1997 system.

Local Government (Cornwall)

The Petition of residents of Caradon District, Cornwall,

Declares that we are concerned about the lack of consultation over proposed local government reorganisation in Cornwall.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Minister for Local Government and Community Cohesion to consult with all Cornish residents to ask if they want a single Council for Cornwall under the South West Regional Assembly.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Ann Winterton , 25 June 2007.] [P000045]

Observation from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

Following an Invitation to Councils in October 2006 to come forward with proposals for a single-tier of local government in their areas, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced on 25 July 2007 that she is minded to allow 9 proposals to proceed towards implementation.

The Secretary of State was minded to allow Cornwall County Council's proposal for a single unitary council for Cornwall to proceed as she judged it to have met all of the five criteria as specified in the original Invitation to Councils.

The Government short-listed 16 of the original 26 unitary proposals in March 2007 and these were subject to a twelve week consultation, which ran until 22 June 2007. Although the Department formally consulted key partners and stakeholders, it was open to
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anyone to make representations about the proposals and all representations were considered during the assessment process.

In addition, the democratically elected local authorities were able to seek the views of local people on their proposals by any means (including referendums, citizens juries, user panels and opinion polls as they saw fit). The weight attached to a local referendum in the assessment process depended on how far it was judged to accurately
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reflect informed local opinion. This included whether the question could be easily understood by voters and the steps taken to provide voters with a balanced and full explanation of the complex issues.

Final decisions will be taken on which unitary proposals will be implemented, having regard to all relevant information, if and when the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill is enacted.

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