Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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Putting power into petitioning

Local people will be able to demand their councils to take action on under-performing schools and hospitals, alcohol disorder, anti-social behaviour and other concerns under new proposals to give real teeth to local petitions, announced Communities Secretary John Denham yesterday.

For the first time councils will be expected to respond to petitions and tell residents what action is going to be taken to address their concerns. No council will be able to ignore a petition or leave it on the shelf because it raises a difficult or challenging issue in the local area. Yesterdays proposals are the next steps in the Government's drive to ensure problems are solved and residents receive the high quality local services they are entitled to.

New guidance published yesterday for consultation sets out how councils should respond to all petitions, especially on four key areas.

  • On under-performing schools - councils should consider the most effective action, including issuing a warning notice to immediately improve standards and could appoint more governors, remove budgets or ultimately consider closure if they fail to comply.
  • On alcohol related crime and disorder - in areas blighted by alcohol fuelled disorder, councils should consider making it an offence to refuse to stop drinking when asked by police, or to charge licensed premises for additional policing.
  • On under-performing hospitals - where communities are concerned about issues like poor hygiene, councils should consider asking their scrutiny committee to investigate, which has powers to review services, request information from NHS bodies, and make urgent recommendations.
  • On anti-social behaviour - councils will be expected to consider using the wide range of powers available to them and to work with police on actions such as setting response times for complaints about noise or neighbours.

John Denham said:

"As their elected representatives, councillors are there to fight the corner for local residents and make sure services meet their needs.

"Petitions are an important way for citizens to tell councils their concerns and to get action taken on the issues that matter most to them.

"For the first time, councils will be expected to respond to petitions and let people know what they're going to do to address worries about underperforming local services.

"We are giving petition power real teeth so people know it's worth taking the time to make their point and get things done."

Notes to editors

1. The guidance on petitions is available at: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/communities/petitionsresponseconsultation.

2. The new duty means councils must act, on behalf of local people, to address concerns about under-performing services across the board. As part of a response, petitions with a significant level of support will also trigger a debate of the full council or require a senior officer to have to attend the authority's overview and scrutiny committee to answer questions.

3. Every council will have to set out clearly how local people can submit both paper and electronic petitions so that people know how they can express their views.

4. All councils receive petitions, and some of them deal with them well. However a survey by the LGA found that only 28 per cent of councils guarantee an automatic response to petitions. The petitions provisions will bring the standards of all councils up to those of the best.

5. Local authorities have a wide range of powers and influence at their disposal to respond to issues raised in petitions. Examples include:

  • On anti-social behaviour - asking the courts to grant an Anti-social Behaviour Order (ASBO); applying to the courts for a Premises Closure Order to close properties where there is persistent nuisance or disorder; making a Gateway Order to restrict access to any public highway to prevent crime or ASB; offering family intervention tenancies as part of a package of behavioural support to tenants who have lost or risk losing their secure or assured tenancy because of anti-social behaviour.
  • On alcohol related crime and disorder - placing restrictions on public drinking in the area by establishing a Designated Public Place Order or, as a last resort, imposing an Alcohol Disorder Zone. When an Alcohol Disorder Zone is established, the licensed premises in the area where alcohol related trouble is being caused are required to contribute to the costs of extra policing in that area.
  • On under-performing schools - issuing a warning notice outlining expectations and a timeframe for improvement; for schools that have failed to comply with a warning notice or are in an Ofsted category of notice to improve (requiring significant improvement) or special measures, authorities can also appoint additional governors, establish an interim executive board, remove the school's delegated budgets, require the school to enter into a formal contract or partnership or (only if the school is in special measures) require its closure.
  • On under-performing hospitals - asking the council's scrutiny committee to investigate concerns on issues like poor hygiene - the committee has powers to review services, request information from NHS bodies, and make urgent recommendations; work with Local Involvement Networks, which have powers to carry out spot checks and seek information and responses from health service providers.

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