Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by Age UK (L 85)

The Localism Bill presents the opportunity for people in later life and disabled people to have a greater say in their neighbourhood and shape the services they rely on. In order for this to be achieved, however, the Government needs to ensure that Localism is for everyone, not just for those who wield the most influence. This means ensuring engagement and inclusion are at the heart of new systems and that the whole community is given equal opportunity to participate.

1. Right to supported engagement

While the Localism Bill provides the framework for devolving power to individuals, we believe that in order to achieve true empowerment, the Bill must provide everyone with the support they need to engage. New community rights are not all simple to use. For instance, neighbourhood planning may involve setting up a neighbourhood forum, requiring specialists to advise on the plan and going through a local referendum. We believe that, at the very least, local authorities should be required to publish guides on new community powers given by the Bill.

In addition, throughout the Bill there is an emphasis on providing information online. However, in the UK 60 per cent of people over the age of 65 have never used the internet. Whilst progress is being made on digital inclusion, there are still a number of barriers to overcome. In the meantime, alternative communication methods should always be provided and information must be accessible to all. As a minimum, information should be made available in hard copy and in a format rendered easily understandable and usable by communities.

We therefore support the following tabled amendments:

Clause 39, page 28, line 38, at end insert-

‘(6) A principal local authority must publish on the authority’s website, and in print, information on the duty to hold a local referendum and a guide for communities the process for holding a local referendum, both to be in a format easily understandable and useable by communities.’

Clause 50, page 33, line 40, leave out ‘in such manner as it thinks fit’ and insert ‘in print and online in a format easily understandable and useable by communities’.

Clause 69, page 50, line 39, after ‘website’, insert ‘and in print, both to be in formats easily understandable and useable by communities’.

2. ‘Right to Challenge’

We will be judging the success of the ‘Community Right to Challenge’ by whether it delivers improved outcomes for older people and disabled people, with the appropriate safeguards in place to ensure that vulnerable people are protected. The Equality Act 2010 will require all public bodies to promote equality between different age groups from 2011 and we believe the implementation of it should be promoted to adopt ‘age friendly’ policy making and service delivery. Clause 68 (5), states that ‘A relevant authority must, in considering an expression of interest, consider whether acceptance of the expression of interest would promote or improve the social economic or environmental well-being of the authority’s area’, we believe it should be extended to include equality.

We therefore support the following tabled amendments to the Bill:

Clause   68 ,  page   50 ,  line   12 ,  leave out subsections (5) and (6) and insert-

‘(5) A relevant authority must, in considering an expression of interest, consider-

(a) whether acceptance of the expression of interest would promote or improve the social, economic or environmental well-being of the authority’s area,

(b) whether acceptance of the expression of interest would promote or improve equality for people who work, study or live in the authority’s area,

(c) whether acceptance of the expression of interest would disadvantage vulnerable groups in society, and

(d) the effect of acceptance of the expression of interest on the continuity of the relevant service.

(6) A relevant authority must, in carrying out the exercise referred to in subsection (2), consider-

(a) how it might promote or improve the social, economic or environmental well-being of the authority’s area by means of that exercise,

(b) how it might promote or improve equality for people who work, study or live in the authority’s area by means of that exercise,

(c) the interests of vulnerable groups in society, and

(d) the continuity of the relevant service.’

3. Transparency and accountability

Part of the community empowerment intended by Government ministers, is dependent upon accountability and transparency. However, in the Bill, this only focuses on spending, specifically on senior officers’ pay. Access to raw data, often provided on-line, however, is not enough to provide transparency and accountability. People need support to be able to analyse the financial data that is being provided. Publishing vast quantities of raw data with no accessible analysis will reduce transparency for the vast majority rather than enhancing it. There also needs to be some context to the information, relating it to value for money and showing the link from spend to better results for communities. Previously, the comprehensive area assessment and Audit Commission provided performance management data which could give this context. We believe this needs to be replaced with locally accountable performance management so that communities are able to judge the suitability and quality of services, not simply the cost.

As a way of judging the success of Localism more generally, we believe there should be a requirement within the Bill for the Secretary of State to publish a report once the Bill has been in operation for one year, reviewing the extent to which community empowerment has been effected. This should give information on the number and distribution of requests to use the new community rights given by the Bill and on whether communities feel more empowered.

February 2011