The bill is still going through Parliament, but it will be an important piece of legislation, especially for local authorities and the councillors who set the policies for them.
The Localism Bill focuses on several main areas, the most important of which are described below:
The general power of competence
The Localism Bill includes a ‘general power of competence’. It will give local authorities the legal capacity to do anything that an individual can do that is not specifically prohibited; they will not, for example, be able to impose new taxes, as an individual has no power to tax.
Decentralisation and strengthening local democracy
The Localism Bill will give local people the power to initiate local referendums on local issues that are important to them. Local authorities and other public bodies will be required to take the outcome of referendums into account and consider what steps, if any, they will take to give effect to the result.
The Localism Bill will also give local communities the power to decide. The Secretary of State will determine a limit for council tax increases which has to be approved by the House of Commons. If an authority proposes to raise taxes above this limit they will have to hold a referendum to get approval for this from local voters who will be asked to approve or to veto the rise. This means that local authorities will need to convince local voters, rather than central government of the case for excessive rises in council taxes.
In some places, voluntary and community groups who have bright ideas find that they do not get a proper hearing. The Localism Bill will give these groups, parish councils and local authority employees the right to express an interest in taking over the running of a local authority service. The local authority must consider and respond to this challenge; and where it accepts it, run a procurement exercise for the service in which the challenging organisation can bid. This will make it easier for local groups with good ideas to put them forward and drive improvement in local services
A radical re-boot of the planning system including neighbourhood planning
The government has identified some significant flaws in the planning system as it stands. Planning does not give members of the public enough influence over decisions that make a big difference to their lives. Too often, power is exercised by people who are not directly affected by the decisions they are taking. This means, understandably, that people often resent what they see as decisions and plans being foisted on them. The result is a confrontational and adversarial system where many applications end up being fought over. The Localism Bill contains proposals to make the planning system clearer, more democratic, and more effective.
Changes to social housing policies
The government believes current social housing policies contain fundamental flaws. The rules are too rigidly set by central government, so that councils find it hard to adapt and meet local needs. Social landlords don’t have enough discretion over how they manage their housing in the best interest of their local community. And in some cases social housing rules actually trap people in difficult circumstances – making it hard to move for work, for example – with the result that the system fails the very people it is designed to help.
The Localism Bill will pass greater powers over housing and regeneration to local democratically elected representatives in London. It will empower the democratically elected Mayor to carry on housing investment activities currently carried out by the Homes and Communities Agency, and the economic development work done by the London Development Agency.
The Modern Councillor module on the Localism Bill takes the learner through the legislation in an engaging and accessible way – making it much more fun, and therefore likely to stick in people’s minds, than reading lengthy documents on the subject!