Headlines: January 7th, 2008

Councils are being urged to give a thoughtful response to the consultation on plans that would require them to respond to local petitions. The consultation is being conducted by the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Hazel Blears, but the Local Government Information Unit has warned that there are issues around petitions that are not touched on in the process.

In a briefing the LGIU says there is evidence that appears to show people believe petitions are a good way of communicating their views. At the same time, however, they are sceptical about the ability or willingness of local authorities to act on or respond to the issues they raise.

Hilary Kitchin, an LGIU policy analyst, said many councils already took local petitions seriously and a common framework might, therefore, be the right thing, but she added, “The consultation does need a thoughtful response from local government. What conditions must be met before a formal response to a petition is required, and in particular, what level of support must be shown? She said, too, there were issues that the consultation did not touch on and councils needed to be aware that the use of local petitions could be exploited by interest groups. “When should councils look at the factors behind the presentation of a petition and how can they test the views that are expressed?” she said.

The consultation continues until March 20th and the issue is likely to be raised at the ‘Councillor Call For Action’ seminar being organised by the LGIU next month. The ‘Councillor Call for Action’ was introduced in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act and implementation by local authorities is expected in April this year. The mechanism is expected to support councillors in raising matters that are of concern to their electors.