Headlines: December 8th, 2008

The Government has published details of the legislation it believes will give people new rights to influence local services as well as giving councils more responsibility to promote economic development. The Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, said there was a need to unlock the potential of local people and to involve them in shaping their services and communities.

Ms Blears said stronger communities would help the whole country to come through the current economic challenges. She said stengthening democracy was key and the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill would create new opportunities for people and communities. The think tank, the Local Government Information Unit, has warned, however, that the measures do not go far enough.

The LGiU Chief Executive, Andy Sawford, said it would call on Parliament to inject new powers into the Bill to hold local quangos and public service providers to account, with a link, through councillors. “Our message to the Government remains that local councils are best placed to understand their own communities and rightly should be given the powers and responsibility to act for them,” he said.

The Bill includes a new duty on councils to promote democracy and is seen by the Government as putting local authorities at the forefront of the drive to reconnect people with public and political decision-making. There will also be new rights of access to more information and powers to hold politicians and officials to account as well as a new duty on councils to respond to petitions.

On economic development, the Bill envisages new srategies in each of the English Regions to bring together economic and spatial planning and a duty on local authorities to assess economic conditions in their areas. Councils will also get powers to work together to promote economic development and democracy.