Larger councils have a wellbeing power to promote the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of their area, but few are making use of it. Research has revealed that only 1 in 12 councils have taken up the power and that 1 in 10 councils do not know that it exists.
Local Government Minister, John Healey, has urged councils to consider using the legislation to support their communities during the current economic climate. He said the power could be a key tool for councils to ride out the economic downturn, using it, for example, as a legal cornerstone to invest in improvements to the local area, attracting new businesses and creating new jobs for residents. He applauded those councils that have shown the way, using it to drive investment in their area, get local people into jobs or make savings by delivering more efficient services.
The power can be used as long as it is in the interest of local wellbeing. It is available to enable a wide range of actions, such as saving councils time, avoiding complex legal procedures and cutting red tape. It was given to councils in 2000 as a “power of first resort” and it can save councils from checking through numerous different laws, and it enables them to focus on achieving their goals.
Examples of councils that have used the power successfully include the London Borough of Greenwich where worklessness was tackled by creating an employment agency in support of the existing community training agency. From a joint agreement between North Tyneside and Newcastle City Council, a new street lighting infrastructure was created. The move helped to regenerate the local area, restoring civic pride, improving house prices, attracting new businesses and reducing crime.