The Government’s flagship Localism Bill will help free “local government from the shackles of central government”, a Minister told MPs today as the Bill came under renewed pressure for handing Communities Secretary Eric Pickles “more than 100 extra powers”.
Junior Communities minister Andrew Stunell said amendments and new clauses to the legislation tabled by the Government were each designed to improve the effectiveness of the Bill. The Localism Bill aims to devolve greater powers to neighbourhoods and councils and give local communities more control over housing and planning decisions.
Speaking during the Bill’s report stage in the Commons, Mr Stunell introduced a new clause refining one of the central elements – the general power of competence. He said: “This Government is committed to the radical decentralisation of power and control from Whitehall and Westminster to local government, back to local communities and individuals. We are pushing power back down to the lowest possible level. This Bill is about shaking up the balance of power and revitalising democracy.
“It will give power to councils, it will give power to communities, it will give power to voluntary groups and power to the people. Giving local authorities the power to take decisions that are right for their areas and giving to local people the power to implement those decisions. This Government trusts local authorities to know what’s best for their areas, we trust local councils to know what they are doing and we are freeing up local government from the shackles of central government. The Localism Bill does just what it says on the label.”
Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government Barbara Keeley queried whether the proposed extra powers granted to the Secretary of State accorded with the spirit of the Bill. She said: “On new clause 12, clearly the Minister has been talking about the limits on power and we are still very concerned about the 142 extra powers for the Secretary of State in the Bill.” Mr Stunell said a local authority could choose whether or not it adopted a code of conduct for its members, but it must be under a duty to publicise whether it had revised or abolished it.