Prospects for codifying the relationship between central and local government - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents

Appendix: Illustrative draft code for central and local government

Illustrative draft code for central and local government—a basis for further discussion[101]

Preamble (Optional)

We the citizens and the Government of the United Kingdom recognise all elected councils in England as free and independent bodies, separate and equal partners in the governance of this realm under Her Majesty, accountable to local people. Parliament asserts that democratically elected councils have a range of rights, freedoms and duties to secure and improve the well-being of their citizens and communities. Parliament states that elected councils have the right to carry out those duties as they judge best on any matter which is not reserved under law to the competence of some other authority, subject always to the judgment of the courts and the ultimate approval of their electors. Parliament makes plain that elected councils have equal status to elected central government and that their rights and duties shall enjoy equal protection in law.

Article One:

1.  The fundamental rights, freedoms and duties of councils herein are defined protected and entrenched. They may not be compromised or changed other than by the explicit consent of Parliament as authorised firstly by an elected joint committee of both Houses, and then by the approval of both Houses of Parliament as prescribed in the amendment to the 1911 Parliament Act.

2.  This code embodies an agreement between central government and local councils. Councils, local government representative bodies, all ministers, government departments, MPs, civil servants, courts of law and all public agencies interacting with local government are bound by the articles within this agreement and will act in accordance with these articles.

3.  The individual rights of citizens are not affected by this code and citizens may seek judicial review against any injustice or infringement of rights as now. Councils and government can seek legal adjudication should it be felt that a council, councils or central government are not acting in accordance with the code.

Article Two: Local Autonomy and Local Self-Government

1.  Councils' accountability is to local citizens.

2.  Councils shall operate within the rule of law and with regard and respect to human rights legislation.

3.  Councils are autonomous, democratically elected bodies which independently decide upon, administer and regulate the public affairs of and deal with all matters of concern within their boundaries which are not dealt with or attended to by other governmental bodies under law.

4.  Councils operate within a framework of an irrevocable general power of competence with a full legal personality. Subject to the preamble to this code and to paragraph 3 of this Article powers rest with councils, acting in accordance with the national legal framework, to pass local measures on matters affecting the affairs and interests of their area.

Article Three: Scope of Local Government

1.  The powers and responsibilities of councils may not be prescribed other than by statute subject to safeguards in Article 1.1.

2.  Councils have, in addition to existing powers, full discretion to exercise their initiative with regard to any matter which is not excluded from their competence or assigned to any other authority or body.

3.  Councils are to be consulted, early within the policy and decision-making processes, by the Government if it is proposing actions which will affect any council and its communities.

Article Four: Inter-Governmental Activities

1.  Central and local government acting jointly shall be allowed to create inspection regimes to set and maintain service standards.

Article Five: Territorial Autonomy

1.  The geographical boundary of a council can only be altered by a proposal from the council itself or from local citizens and not by any action of central government. Any locally inspired proposal for boundary changes must be constructed with the involvement of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England and within the law and subject to local approval in the area concerned.

Article Six: Council Governmental Systems

1.  Local citizens through methods agreed by their councils shall have autonomy to choose their internal political decision-making systems (including,-the right to adopt a directly elected mayor and cabinet, cabinet and leader, or a committee system, or any other political decision-making arrangement). Local citizens through methods agreed by their councils can adopt any electoral system for use in council elections, after consultation and approval by local citizens.

Article Seven: Local Government Financial Integrity

1.  Councils shall be financially independent of central government. Equalisation arrangements will continue as now. Equalisation will be conducted through a process independent of central government and continue to be based on the principle of ensuring fairness and balance between councils.

2.  Councils may raise additional sources of income in their localities in any way they wish [subject to the rule of law and human rights legislation] if they gain the consent of their electorates.

3.  Local government shall have a guaranteed share of the annual yield of income tax. This share shall be renegotiated whenever service provision responsibilities are transferred between central and local government.

4.  Councils shall be able to raise any loans, bonds or other financial instruments which their credit rating allows and will be exclusively responsible for repayment. All councils shall operate "a balanced budget" so that all outgoings, including interest repayments on borrowings, shall not exceed income.

5.  Central government may not cap, or in any way limit, council's taxation powers. Central and local government may contract with each other to pursue their own policy objectives.

6.  The same financial transparency standards will apply to local and central government, alike.

Article Eight: Councils' Right and Duty to Co-operate and Associate

1.  Councils as independent legal entities are entitled, in any undertaking, to co-operate in any way with other councils, public and private bodies, any voluntary, charity or third-sector organisation, or with any financial, commercial or private enterprise.

2.  Where more than one Council is responsible for services in a geographic area, these Councils shall co-operate to maximise the well-being of those within that area.

3.  Councils are able to belong to any association for the protection and promotion of their common interests and to belong to an international association of any sort. Subject to the general provisions of this code councils are entitled to co-operate with councils in other countries for any matter.

Article Nine: Decision making

1.  The administration of any local proposition, referendum or other local decision making process shall follow standards set by the Electoral Commission, and those responsible for the conduct of any such democratic process shall be accountable to the Electoral Commission for their performance against those standards.

Article Ten: Legal Protection of Local Government

1.  Councils have the right of recourse to a judicial remedy in order to secure free exercise of their powers, and any other principles of local self-government or individual rights enshrined in law or contained within the code or evident in Human Rights legislation.

101   On 18 January 2011, the Committee agreed "that written evidence be sought from an academic witness, containing an illustrative draft code governing the relationship between central government and local authorities in England". Professor Colin Copus of de Montfort University agreed to take on this work. On 23 March 2011, the Committee wrote to all those who had given oral evidence to the inquiry asking for their views on the draft code for relations between central and local government. Suggested revisions were received and at the request of the Committee incorporated by Professor Copus into the draft code. The draft code was put out to public consultation between February and November 2012, and the Committee received 99 responses. Suggested revisions were incorporated into the code by Professor Copus and resubmitted to the Committee on 10 December 2012.  Back

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Prepared 29 January 2013