There is a warning today that Government bureaucracy may undermine the aims of its Sustainable Communities Bill to engage with disengaged parts of the community. With the Bill set for a second reading in the Lords today, the Local Government Information Unit says local authorities may face a tough time in making the measures work.
The LGIU says the Bill contains noble ambitions but the sheer bureaucracy surrounding it may act against its goal. Policy analyst Gemma Roberts says it rightly gives prominence to an issue that affects people but it is unlikely to simplify the web of organisations and decision making that have some part to play in fostering sustainability.
Ahead of the publication of a new briefing paper on the Bill she questioned whether it was the right mechanism to bring about greater engagement in local decision making. “The bill has a grassroots approach, but the bureaucratic system here may act against its goal to pull in the disengaged parts of the community,” she said and added, “Local authorities will have to work hard to make the community engagement work, balancing opposing views and making sure they are not being dominated by the loudest voices.”
Ms Roberts points to last week’s announcement by Communities and Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears of 10 pilot projects, allowing local people to decide priorities for council spending as having similar aims but a different process for achieving them. The Bill includes provisions for the Secretary of State to publish action plans to promote local sustainability and for councils and local communities to take part in formulating and implementing these. Its advantage, Ms Roberts says, is that it acknowledges that social and environmental issues are integral to promoting sustainable communities.
Although the Bill has yet to receive Royal Assent, she is advising councils to consider its wider impact and how it would work with existing structures of local prioritisation and consultation. She is also questioning what the implications will be for local authorities of taking on additional functions, such as post offices.