England & Wales

Localism Bill: live reaction from key commentators

We’ll be keeping this post updated throughout the day. The three most recent comments are below. Click “read more” to see the whole lot. Contact LGiU Chief Executive Andy Sawford on 07977 265325 for any press enquiries on the Localism Bill. You can contact me on laurie.thraves@lgiu.org.

Pete Hoskin, The Spectator. Pete reckons that the upshot of the settlement and the Localism Bill may “be a nationwide blame game: are bad services due to the cuts imposed from on high, or the actions of individual councils?”

Stephen Robertson, BRC. The BRC is, perhaps predictably, unhappy about the decision to give councils greater control over setting business rates. They’d have preferred a mechanism based on an independent benchmark.

David Brock, Mills & Reeve LLP. David notes that “It’s 5.40 pm and I am getting several emails telling me what’s in the Bill. This is quite remarkable given that it’s not actually on the Parliament website yet. It just goes to show you shouldn’t believe all you read in the papers”. Good point, well made.

George Saliagopoulos. The Curtin and Co consultant has argued that providing new powers, rather than new money, will encourage councils to “rise above the simplistic mindset that you can solve problems simply by throwing money at them”. They’ll have to.

Direct Democracy. The campaign group is broadly happy with what Pickles has served up. But it also argues, along with other commentators, that “there is one thing the Bill doesn’t do, which would greatly improve both the freedom and the accountability of local government: grant fiscal autonomy”.

Caroline Flint. Caroline Flint argued in her response to Eric that cuts are still front-loaded. It looks like she might have a point. Most authorities are taking a larger percentage reduction this year than in 2012-13 according to CLG figures.

Richard Kemp, Leader, LGA Liberal Democrats. After a slow start reaction from Lib Dems is rolling in. Kemp “warmly welcomes most of the Bill” but cautions that there is a “lot of detail here that we will need to discuss urgently”. He’s particualrly keen on reducing “the amount of bureaucracy and form filling that has bedeviled us for 40 years”.

Frank Little. The Liberal Democrat Councillor for Cadoxton points out that the Bill will “end the absurd situation where councillors are prevented from acting on local issues because of the risk of challenge that they are biased”. Good point, well made.

Bob Neil. Bob Neil’s said that the Localism Bil will usher in a new “can-do” era for councils. He’s said that it will “remove legal barriers to ventures such as the London Authorities’ Mutual Limited” although “the government will keep some reserve powers”. They’ve thought of everything!

Inside Edge. Jules Birch takes the exact opposite view to our previous comment. He welcomes some positive developments (forgive the pun) in the Localism Bill but “can’t help noticing that the freedoms for local communities to act are all on things that the coalition approves of – the freedom of property owners to build conservatories while objecting to new homes for outsiders”.

David Cowans, Chief Executive, Places for People. A reaction that, I must say, surprised me from a developer. Cowan argues that the only way to tackles “the severest housing shortage since the 1920s” is to “move away from the current adversarial planning system”. Confounds a couple of earlier commentators who’ve argued that giving people a bigger say will result in the UK being cripplid by nimbyism. Interesting stuff.

Graeme Stewart, Sophos. Clever post. Graham points out that the Localism Bill and settlement will result in more councils merging functions. He points out that most council services would benefit from economis of scale. But there is, of course, a catch. The logic of mergers “continues and continues until you end up at something like the NHS IT systems, which have so far performed dismally

British Humanist Association. The BHA argues that “special privileges” for faith groups will block the creation of a Big Society. It calls for policies from government that prevent exclusion of people on the basis of faith. That’s fair enough. It’s wishful thinking, however, to think that government is going to have much say over how tiny community
groups operate.
Dr Phil Parvin, Loughborough University. Dr Parvin is worried about what I guess you would call the tyranny of the minority. Should local people “be able to veto the building of homeless shelters, social housing, centres for asylum seekers, prisons or airport runways?”

Daniel Hannan. Daniel Hannan gives the Localism Bill “two cheers”. He’s impressed by the new powers but wants to see “a proper link between taxation, representation and expenditure at the local level”. It’s another example of the cross-party agreement that exists on this issue: with the likes of IPPR in one corner and Hannan and Douglas Carswell in the other. I’m sure you’d struggle to find another point of common agreement between this lot.

Inside the M60. The blog points out that the bill “proposes a change in the role that councils play in finding accommodation for homeless families”.

Alexandra Jones, Chief Executive, Centre for Cities. Alexandra agrees with other commentators that new powers are good, cuts are bad. But she also points out a new concern: “that some places are already more able and willing to make the most of these powers than others, with this likely to result in a further widening of the differences between places’ economies”.

The View from Cullingworth. Cllr Simon Cooke notes that local councils may begin to pass some of their new transparency requirements on to suppliers. He’s surely right that “organisations contracting with local government should be prepared for new rules on disclosure and transparency” that some might find uncomfortable.
Len McCluskey, General Secretary, Unite. Len’s not impressed. He’s said that the “The ‘Big Society’ is a smokescreen – a David Cameron vision of a 1950’s Britain that never existed – which actually will mean an estimated 140,000 job losses in the next year”.

Caroline Flint. Labour Shadow Secretary of State has said that giving new powers to councils “when they are cutting local government by 27 per cent on average over the next four years” is “offering councils devolution while holding a gun to their head”.

Dr Tim Brown, Director of the Centre for Comparative Housing Research, De Montfort University. Brown warns that councils “need financial support to apply localism”. Without it he says that the Big Society will have a “very hollow ring to it”.

IPPR. The think tank, which recently called for 50 per cent of council’s revenue to be raised locally rather than through central government subsidy, warns that the Bill could represent ‘lipstick localism’ if it does not deliver real powers with new funding streams that give local people more control over how their taxes are spent.

Living with Rats. Julian Dobson argues that it’s not taken new powers per se that will improve people’s lives. He says that localism is about “responsiveness”: it “doesn’t matter whether a service is delivered by the local authority or a community organisation, as long as it addresses the real life priorities of the people it is there to serve”.

Peter Bingle, Chairman, Bell Pottinger Public Affairs. Bingle describes the Localism Bill as “the largest upheaval in the balance between central and local government since 1945. Funding of local government is being reduced at the same time as they are being asked to do more”.

Stephen Bubb, Chief Executive, ACEVO. Bubb describes new powers for communities and councils as “long overdue and welcome”. However, he’s not entirely happy. He urges voluntary sector organisations to be “beware Greeks bearing gifts! I suspect there are some Councils who, facing both a budget cut and a cut in capital allocation, will think this a great chance to offload all those local libraries, youth centres and sports halls with leaky roofs onto a local community that then spends years fundraising for repairs.

Dave Hill’s London Blog: Dave reminds us of “the hints and promises about new powers for the Mayor of London that wafted about in the run up to May’s election” and Boris’s own proposals for devolution that included more direct mayoral control over housing provision, the Olympics legacy and policing. Dave reckons Boris will “get these powers and more”.

Conservative Home: Harry Phibbs highlights “strong new powers to tackle unauthorised development” that “can put a halt to illegal developments – such as unauthorised traveller sites and homes built in secret without planning permission”. These new powers include a ban on retrospective planning permission for unauthorised traveller sites and other illegal developments, doubling financial penalties for deliberately ignoring planning laws and new powers to extend time limits on tackling people who deliberately mislead planners.

Cllr Richard Stay: A characteristically acute summary from one of this blog’s favourite bloggers. He says that the Bill will signal a “sea change in public services”. His highlight is “the abolition of the stupid Standards for England set up, which was & is a charter for professional whingers”.

Eric Pickles: Eric describes the Bill as a ” powerful series of measures puts new rights in law for people to protect, improve and even run important frontline services. For too long people have been powerless to intervene as vital community resources disappear from their areas. The Community Rights measures will put control back where it belongs -with the people at the heart of our villages, towns and cities”.

Andrew Stunell: “These groundbreaking measures puts communities at the heart of decision making for protecting vital frontline services and puts them on the front foot for putting in an offer if they come up for closure.”

Tony Burton, Civic Voice: “Too many communities are losing the buildings and services that bind them together. They need new safeguards to ensure community assets don’t disappear for the lack of awareness of their value and to provide civic societies and other local groups with the time and capacity needed to develop viable proposals to save them. Civic Voice welcomes the steps being taken in the Localism Bill to give communities new rights to help save the assets that matter to them.”