Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by The Hampshire Association of Local Councils (the ALC) (L 07)

Call for Evidence: Localism Bill

Background of the ALC

1. The Hampshire Association of Local Councils (the ALC) is a not for profit company limited by guarantee, and is a membership organisation offering support, advice, services and representation to the 261 local (parish and town) councils of Hampshire, with certain services offered to non-members.

2. The ALC is governed by its County Board consisting of seven voting Directors elected by the membership. Our principal operational partner is Hampshire County Council and the ALC is affiliated to the National Association of Local Councils. The ALC is the largest County Association (CALC) using several measures including income, and has supported the creation of more new parish councils in recent times, than in any other area of the country, with seven new councils created in 2010 alone.

3. More information is available as required, and the website www.hampshire-alc.gov.uk may be useful.

General Power of Competence

4. The ALC supports a general power of competence for eligible councils. That eligibility should be determined through the award of ‘Quality Council’, as brought into legislation in the Local Government and Health Act 2007. There are variable levels of governance, accountability and community engagement within local councils and the Quality Council scheme is the best benchmark yet set within the sector. There also remains a requirement for all levels of government to recognise the benefits of the Quality Award to all stakeholders.

5. The current and somewhat curious eligibility set for the ‘Power of well-being’ is not supported; it should have been again limited to Quality Councils to allow consistency, conformity and support for existing legislation.

6. Some concern over the breadth and credibility of any general power was introduced with the LAML case [1] , and local councils would need some reassurance to ensure its broadest potential use.


7. This principle is part of Common Law, and not part of the Code of Conduct, and many councillors will welcome the ability to be involved in decision-making, where previously they were excluded. The ALC though, has some concern over the clarity of the wording of any legislation, and following guidance notes for the local council sector will need to be explicit.

Abolition of the Code of Conduct

7. The ALC vehemently does not support the removal of the Code of Conduct, which if implemented, will create even more local disputes than are currently ongoing. It watches with great concern over the replacement clauses for the Code, without enthusiasm. The government itself, and principal local authorities may well find themselves with a whole new host of local governance problems, which before at least had an avenue to resolution, but which now do not. The ALC believes the government’s decision is wrong, and hopes that full and explicit dispute resolution/sanction guidance will be given to cover all behavioural issues in councils. Without this, money will not be saved, but simply spent in different ways. The ALC reminds government that there is only one pot of money, taken from individual and organisation’s ‘pockets’. Merely ‘shifting the deckchairs’ at this time of confusion will only lead to more problems.

Local Referendums

8. The ALC cannot support increased use of local referendum. They will be costly, divisive, and the ALC considers that representative democracy requires that the public allow elected representatives to make decisions. The ‘California’ experience has shown that the public will always vote for more services, but to pay less money and the lessons should be learned from that experience. This provision will cost more money, than it adds value to the public. In particular, parish and town councils should not be included in the potential precept referendum. Historical data shows that these local councils are cautious in spending patterns without regulation, being close to their electorate. If anything, if there is a real Localism drive, their precepts need to be increasing at this time in order to support more local service provision. Some of the clauses in this Bill are inconsistent on this basis, and it is hoped will be amended through debate in the two Houses.

Community Right to Challenge

9. Many public assets could be better managed by other than by principal local authorities, and this clause is supported. As always in this extensive Bill, the devil will be in the detail, and small but capable organisations should not be disadvantaged.


10. In general, the Bill should allow community organisations more empowerment whilst recognising that constraints must be placed upon them to ensure transparency and accountability. The unique position of parish councils means that they are solely placed to be a ‘main engine’ in building a ‘Big Society’ so long as they are enabled and supported. Like many organisations, the ALC’s grant will be cut by around 8% in each of the two following financial years. Supporting 260 small councils with only one full-time member of staff is at least problematic, and targeted funding for specific outcomes needs to be made available to the sector. It should not support national infrastructure or general costs.

11. This Bill with its timing is a one-off opportunity in a generation to empower local communities, support local governance and to cut central direction. The ALC hopes that these simple objectives will be followed through the clauses in the Bill, and thanks Parliament for the opportunity to comment at this time.

January 2011

[1] Brent LBC v Risk Management Partners Ltd; London Authorities Mutual Ltd & Harrow LBC (Interested Parties) [2009] EWCA 490