The contract between local politicians and the people they serve is to be rewritten to achieve a fundamental shift in power and to give local communities and citizens the ability to influence the issues important to them. The white paper, Communities in control, describes a range of measures designed to put more power in the hands of citizens and allow them to get involved in managing and shaping local services.
The white paper is a response to feelings of powelessness expressed by people in surveys. Only 38 per cent of people felt able to influence decisions in their local area and 50 per cent of respondents wanted to be more involved in the decisions that their local council makes. A survey also showed that 90 per cent of people think that councils should take account of views raised through petitions when making decisions, but only 21 per cent of people agree that they currently do so.
The provisions of the white paper include a new duty to respond to petitions. Petitions will enable local people to force an issue onto a council’s agenda. The result would be that issues would be discussed by the full council committee and could be subject to a vote. This could be used to raise issues as diverse as bin collections and street cleaning, or the state of local parks.
There will be increasing accountability with Chairs and Chief Executives of local public bodies, including quangos, facing regular public hearings. The public will be given an opportunity to question officials about how they are improving public services and demand better results if they believe services are falling short of expectations.
Local people will also be given a direct say on how budgets are spent. It is planned that every area of the country will have a community kitty scheme. People will be able to decide how this pot of money should be spent.
There will be consultation on a number of proposals and legislative changes will be required for some elements of the white paper. Other elements will be integrated with the 2006 white paper, Strong and Prosperous Communities.