Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by Equality and Human Rights Commission (L 18)

Key points

· The Commission considers that the Localism Bill, with adequate safeguards, can contribute positively towards increasing participation of people in decisions that affect their lives.

· However, the Commission is concerned that with more private bodies and community groups taking on public service provision, there is a risk that these services may not in future be subject to the fundamental protections contained in the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998, the new Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) under the Equality Act 2010.

· The Commission believes that the Bill should ensure that where decisions are made outside of traditional local government structures, decision-makers are subject to those equality and human rights obligations which would have applied to the local authority.

· Groups protected by the Equality Act 2010 [1] are currently underrepresented in decision making processes. The Commission therefore believes there is a need to ensure that local decision making promotes equality of participation and voice by involving diverse communities.

The Commission’s position

As the statutory body with duties to promote, enforce and monitor the effectiveness of equality and human rights enactments, the Commission wants to ensure that the Bill has the desired effect of improving local decision making, transparency and accountability, without impacting negatively on the protection offered by the Equality Act 2010 and the HRA.

In 2010, the Commission published its first Triennial Review ‘How Fair is Britain?’. [2] This report identifies public service reform and the decline in opportunities for individuals to contribute to decisions that affect their lives as major risk factors in moving towards a fairer society.

Findings from the Department for Communities and Local Government’s most recent Citizenship Survey [3] suggest that when given greater flexibility, public bodies have a tendency to overlook vulnerable and underrepresented groups. This report further suggests certain groups feel consistently excluded from the decision making process, such as older and younger people. 

Therefore, it is important for the Bill to ensure that, when it operates in practice, localism will be inclusive and promote equality and human rights.

One way in which the Government could guard against unintended negative impacts is to ensure that, as services are increasingly provided and decisions are increasingly made by private entities and local groups rather than public bodies, there is no reduction in the scope of protection afforded by the Human Rights Act and the PSED. W hile the Commission is not opposed to the diversification of service provision, we would like assurances from the Government regarding appropriate legislative provision or alternative mechanisms which would ensure that the same fundamental protections would apply .

The Commission considers that local decision making must involve, reflect and balance the needs of all communities within a locality, fostering good relations within and between all groups, including different generations. We are concerned that many of the provisions of the Bill - including local referendums, community right to challenge and planning provisions – currently contain insufficient safeguards to ensure fair consideration of the needs of all groups within a locality and the human rights implications of decision making.

Next steps

The Commission will be seeking to engage with Parliament to ensure that the Localism Bill delivers on its stated outcomes whilst protecting and promoting equality, human rights and good relations.        

The Commission will provide specific comments on the main provisions of the Bill during the committee stages.

In particular, the Commission will be seeking to determine how the Government will ensure the effective engagement of underrepresented groups in decision making. This will ensure that localism benefits all communities within a locality and does not undermine equality, human rights and good relations.

About the Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006.  The Commission works to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations, and promote and protect human rights. 

As a regulator, the Commission is responsible for enforcing equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encouraging compliance with the Human Rights Act.  It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.

Find out more about the Commission’s work at: www.equalityhumanrights.com

January 2011

[1] Protected groups under the Equality Act 2010: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation,

[2] ‘How fair is Britain’, EHRC, October 2010 http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/key-projects/triennial-review/


[3] The Citizenship Survey 2009-10, Department for Communities and Local Government : http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/corporate/statistics/citizenshipsurveyq4200910