Headlines: December 16th, 2008

A consultation has begun on plans to give people more control over the leadership structure of their local authorities. The proposals would make it easier for voters to get a referendum on the issue.

The Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, has launched ‘Changing Council Governance Arrangements’, which includes three proposals changing the process to trigger a referendum on changes to local governance arrangements to either a directly elected mayor or an indirectly elected council leader. She said it was vital for the wellbeing of democracy that local people had belief in their chosen leaders.

The consultation centres on changes to the referendum process. One measure is a straightforward reduction in the number of signatories needed for a petition calling for a vote to be successful. Currently the threshold stands at five per cent of the local electorate which could mean having to gather more than 15,000 signatures in a large local authority area within 12 months. The measure out for consultation would reduce the threshold to either four, three of two per cent, which would mean 6,000 signatures would be enough to cause a referendum in larger authorities and only 600 would be needed for a small council.

Other proposals would put maximum and minimum signature counts on referendum petitions which would make collecting signatures in large cities easier. There are also plans to allow online petitioning alongside traditional paper petitions and a plan to reduce the time between referendum votes from ten years to four.

Hazel Blears said, “I believe local people know what is best for their area so they must have the power to decide how it is governed. It is right that we make it easier for them to decide which form of council leadership is right for them and relaxing the referendum rules ensures the whole community has a say.”