Headlines: October 22nd, 2007

The Government has published details of its ’empowerment action plan’ setting out how it will fulfill its pledge of greater devolution and giving more power to communities. Two councils from each region of England – 18 authorities in all – have been named as ’empowerment champions’.

The chosen councils will now work with other areas of the country to show empowerment in practice, share lessons they have learned and help other authorities to revive their local democracy through twinning programmes and regional road shows. The selected councils are Lewisham, Southwark, Portsmouth, Brighton, Plymouth, Wiltshire, Ipswich, Great Yarmouth, Nottingham, High Peak, Sheffield, East Riding, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Newcastle and North Tyneside, Cumbria and Salford.

The action plan has been produced in partnership with the Local Government Association and will be backed by 35 million pounds to support the successful delivery of the community empowerment agenda. The plan has been drawn up in part in response to the findings of the 2007 citizenship survey, which showed that only slightly more than a third of people believed they could influence decisions affecting their local area.

The Communities and Local Government Secretary, Hazel Blears, said the plan was about turning rhetoric into reality. “A number of authorities are leading the charge for empowering people doing excellent work. Now I want local government to grasp the opportunities that devolution brings across the country,” she added.

The plan includes every local authority having a Community Kitty, a sum of money set aside to give people a direct say in how it should be spent. There will also be a greater say for young people and by 2010 councils will be able to devolve up to 5 per cent of their budget for youth services with young people deciding how that money is spent. The Government also wants to accelerate the transfer of assets to local people and hopes to publish a toolkit for local authorities and community organisations in Spring 2008. It also wants to raise the status of petitions and increase the role of Citizen Juries.

A new website -http://www.peopleandparticipation.net has been launched to provide practical advice and support to those at the front line creating opportunities to influence decision making. Details of the Action Plan are published at http://www.peopleandparticipation.net.