New Localism Act Leaves Council Confused

The Town Hall

Councillors have been discussing the implementation of the new Localism Act but there is confusion about what will need to be done and when.

The Act, which came into law last year, is designed to ‘decentralise’ power to local communities and covers many areas of local authority responsibility such as reform of the planning system and allowing decisions about housing to be made at a local level.

However, many of the details of the Act haven’t been communicated to local authorities yet.

Chief Executive of the Council, Philip Hygate, described the Act as “the size of an old telephone directory” and he said there was a need to “distil down the very complex Act to key issues.

“It’s very complex and adds greatly to the obligations of the Council without additional resources.”

And there have even been problems with the wording in the Act.

Philip said that Acts normally define The Isles of Scilly and the City of London Corporation separately but this was missing and no one in the Department for Communities and Local Government seemed to know why.

Councillor David Pearson suggested officers were going to spend a significant amount of time and energy, only to find what they’ve come up with will be put aside by Government.

“The Government hasn’t decided which bits they’re going to enforce,” he said. “I feel I’m still waiting for direction.”

However, Councillor Dudley Mumford felt this was an opportunity to review the workings of the Council.

He said he was “mindful it’s about 10 years or more since we reviewed the structure of the Council. We should have an open mind and try to sift through to find any advantages to the way we run our system here.”

Councillor Dudley Mumford wanted to "find any advantages to the way we run our system here."

Dudley added that there is concern in the community about some aspects of the Council. “We tend to tinker around on an ad-hoc basis with the structure.”

And referring to the shifting timelines for implementing the Act, Dudley said he thought they “may be able to achieve some changes before next years elections but the window of opportunity is shrinking very quickly.”

Councillor Chris Savill  said there was still a lot of ‘unknown’ and that officers time was precious. “Until these things are known,” she said, “they shouldn’t be working on them as it could be a waste of time.”

Chris said, “The Government will take ages to get the information out but the time will be short for authorities to implement it.”

Richard McCarthy highlighted some interesting areas including housing.

He said it could help the Authority in dealing with needs of homeless people and in freeing up property, although “the idea that a tenancy is not for life is a crucial change. Some will welcome it, some will find it difficult to come to terms with, but it will have an impact on our islands.”

 

Standards Committee

 

A key area of change in the new Act is around the current Standards Committees.

The Government thinks that, under the current regime, it is too easy to make ill-founded and petty complaints, which put people off standing as Councillors.

So they’ve abolished these boards and told local authorities to set up their own systems.

Monitoring Officer, Sue Pritchard, told Councillors that they were aware when the Act was made law that the Standards regime was going to disappear and it was assumed this would need to be done by the end of March this year.

However, that has now changed and a new system won’t need to be in place until 1st July.

She said an ‘independent person’ will need to sit on that committee but the definition of that person was not clear yet.

Councillor Richard McCarthy said it wasn’t clear if any of the people on the current Standards Committee can be that ‘independent person’ within 5 years, or who appoints that person.

He also questioned whether it was right that the current Standards Committee was essentially discussing it’s own future.

Vice Chair Marian Bennett described this as “like turkeys voting for Christmas.”

But Sue said they were the only ones who understand the issues and processes involved and Standards Committee meetings are held in public.

Councillor Fred Ticehurst agreed, saying that, “Whoever is going to do it, has to do it quickly. Who else is capable to do it?”



One Response to New Localism Act Leaves Council Confused

  1. Cassandra March 14, 2012 at 9:48 am

    With the exception of one or two Scilly specific points isn’t every local authority in the country facing exactly the same issues? So, rather than making a great song and dance about it and over complicating things why not just find out what other (well run) authorities are doing. Also, rather than using the Act as an excuse for yet more spending on staff and offices why not sub out as much of the compliance work as possible to Cornwall otherwise we’re going to be paying for the wheel to be invented yet again.