Headlines: October 9th, 2008

Local authorities are being urged to use the Sustainable Communities Act to push for new powers and freedoms. The New Local Government Network has produced a document arguing that the legislation, which was passed in 2007, gives councils an opportunity to develop local public services and new funding streams but that so far the potential of the new law has not been realised.

The think-tank says that under the Act, the Communities and Local Government Secretary is required to consult councils on issues that affect them. In turn, the authorities consult local people and the results of the whole process should be fed upwards to drive Government policy.

NLGN wants councils to take up the opportunities the Act provides in circumstances such as where Primary Car Trust is struggling to meet financial targets and performance objectives. Where there is organisational and popular consent, the Trust and a unitary or county council could appoint joint posts on the senior management team. Similarly, it argues for the take up of new powers allowing local hypothecation of increases in local tax revenues to finance regeneration, capital investment and infrastructure improvements. Other examples include council leaders taking responsibility for public transport from unelected Traffic Commissioners.

The NLGN also argues that under the Act, the Secretary of State should make an explicit statement recognising the importance of LAAs. It also proposes that partners that are not contributing appropriately to the agreements should be considered appropriate candidates for the transfer of functions and funding.

The paper’s author, Anthony Brand said the legislation gave councils and the communities they served considerable opportunities to drive policy particularly over powers that extended their ability to tackle local economic, social and environmental sustainability issues.