Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by County Councils Network (L 53)

Context

1. The County Councils Network (CCN) is a cross-party special interest group of the Local Government Association which speaks, develops policy and shares best practice for the County family of local authorities, whether unitary or upper tier.  CCN’s 38 member councils, with over 2,500 Councillors, serve 24 million people over 45 thousand square miles or 87% of England.

Overall Response

2. The CCN welcomes the opportunity to engage with the Localism Bill, on behalf of members for whom the issues contained within it are at the core of what they do. Ensuring that this legislation sets the proper framework for partnership between central and local government, and between local government and local people, is crucial to achieving the outcomes we seek. At a time when the public sector cannot rely on funding increases to deliver service outcomes, ensuring a statutory and regulatory framework which frees local authorities up to be creative and customer-focused is vital.

3. The CCN has a number of comments at this stage, which are submitted on behalf of our cross-party Management Committee. We would also draw the Public Bill Committee’s attention to the work of the Local Government Association in seeking to ensure that the Localism Bill more fully reflects Ministers’ intentions and gives local government the right powers and responsibilities it needs to deliver for residents and businesses.

4. The CCN supports a large proportion of the measures contained in the Bill, particularly the General Power of Competence, the increased flexibility for Councillors to speak out on behalf of their local communities, and the dismantling of the regional planning bureaucracy. These measures were called for in the CCN Manifesto in early 2010, and we are pleased to see they are being taken forward.

5. We would echo the LGA’s concerns around extra powers being available to directly elected Mayors which are not available to local authorities operating other structures. The Mayoral model has yet to be tested in an upper tier area, or across a sparse geography. Powers available to local authorities should either be available universally, or if not then based on those authorities’ capacity and capability, not on their governance structures. The CCN also joins the LGA in opposing the suggestion that local government should be required in some case to pay fines imposed on national government by the EU.

Strategic Planning

6. The CCN welcomes Clause 90 of the Localism Bill, seeing the duty to co-operate as an important part of delivering joined-up local planning for sub-regional economies, and believes that County Councils should be prescribed bodies. In some areas, the appropriate strategic scale for much decision-making is that of the administrative or historic county. In others, Local Enterprise Partnerships across a different functional economic scale has been formed. In these areas, the Local Enterprise Partnership should also be prescribed bodies.

7. The CCN believes that while Clause 90 goes some way towards recreating the valuable Section 4 (4) role granted to local authorities, in particular upper tier authorities in shire areas, by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act, there is more which could be done to ensure that this is effective. The CCN supports local negotiation and agreement between local political actors, and believes that clarity around the involvement of all partners will ensure that this is undertaken effectively.

8. In particular, as well as requiring specified bodies to provide advice when requested to do so in the preparation of local development documents and other planning activity, the CCN believes that the Committee should examine the feasibility of placing a reciprocal duty on organisations carrying out that activity, such that they are required to seek that advice when appropriate, and to have regard to it as a material consideration.

9. While this could potentially be achieved through statutory guidance, the current phrasing of 90 (5) suggests that the duty applies primarily to authorities providing advice, rather than authorities engaged with the preparation of development documents themselves – the CCN would therefore strongly prefer clarity within the statutory framework.

Nationally Significant Infrastructure

10. The CCN accepts the intention to transfer powers from the Infrastructure Planning Commission to the Secretary of State regarding infrastructure of national significance, with a strengthened role for Parliament.

11. We would recommend, whether at this stage or in Government considerations, that thought should be given to which powers and functions in terms of planning for the new infrastructure (as distinct from the question of whether or not to approve the infrastructure itself) can be devolved to a more local level and joined up with local transport, housing, and economic planning.

Referendums on Local Issues

12. The CCN believes that the procedures and powers set out in Clauses 39-55 should be reconsidered in order to fit more closely with the localist spirit behind the Bill, ensuring that each local area can consider how local opinion can be given a voice in the decision-making process. This is not done most effectively by a detailed and prescriptive system determined in London. It is also important to ensure that in multi-tier areas the ‘local area’ defined for the purposes of any referendum is genuinely that which is affected by the outcome of that referendum.

February 2011