Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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John Denham - New powers to help residents fix local problems
Communities are being given a powerful new way to fix local problems under new proposals to strengthen the ability of councils to scrutinise all local public services, announced Communities Secretary John Denham yesterday.
A new Private Members Bill published today, backed by the Government, will give every resident the right to hold local service providers to account through their elected representatives on all issues of local concern: like dug up roads, poor facilities at train stations, or threatened local bus routes.
People often feel they don't have the power or knowledge to tackle service providers on their own. But instead of having to suffer in silence, they will be able to call on their councillor who will have new powers to fight their corner.
The proposed new powers mean councils could legally compel organisations to attend public scrutiny hearings to justify their actions and respond in full to recommendations made by the councils to resolve the problem. This sweeps away the need to rely solely on the voluntary co-operation of organisations when addressing local concerns.
The Bill will complete the scrutiny arrangements so that all significant local public service spending can now be covered by scrutiny; and could mean service providers being held to account on a range of issues like:
- energy companies digging up roads, pavements and gardens for repairs and then leaving them in worse condition once finished;
- many things commuters care about - station safety, proper lighting, decent facilities and access;
- young families with children using regular bus services to get to school who feel the discounted bus tickets are still too expense;
- gas and electricity companies digging up and blocking roads and pavements and restricting access to shops and facilities for a prolonged period;
- bus services in largely rural areas - a lifeline for many rural communities - can be scrutinised if there are concerns about the routes used, the pick up points or even the area included in the catchment;
- concerns about other local services including, local sports facilities, museums, libraries, health and safety, and the fire and rescue service.
Councils will also have strengthened powers to scrutinise all the activities of Job Centre Plus, on issues like worklessness in the area, or how they're helping people into jobs locally.
Colleges are also subject to scrutiny as part of the current scrutiny regime for the Learning and Skills Council.
John Denham said:
"Local people should be able to elect councillors who can get back to them on the performance of all local public services, not just the ones run by the council itself. This Bill gives councillors the power to hold all these services to account whether they are provided by other public bodies or private companies delivering public services.
"It will give councils the ability to shine a spotlight on services not delivering for local people and demand action on behalf of their communities to resolve local problems. There should be no hiding place from awkward questions for company bosses about why they are not providing the high quality local public services people are entitled to."
Under provisions in the Bill, organisations called to scrutiny will be required to provide information to the scrutiny committee, send an appropriate person to a scrutiny hearing to answer questions and to consider and respond in full to scrutiny committee reports and recommendations.
The extension of scrutiny powers is part of the Total Place approach to give councils more say over spending across their area to cut out waste and duplication and deliver better value for money for the taxpayer's pound.
David Chaytor MP, who is taking forward the Overview and Scrutiny Bill, said:
"I am delighted that the Government is backing my Private Members Bill to put the power to act quickly and effectively into the hands of local councils. This will allow them to step in and fix problems and raise standards where local public services are seen to be falling short of what is expected of them.
"It is a testament to the Parliamentary system that MPs and the Government can work together to ensure that residents, like those in my Bury North constituency, can have a powerful voice and can flag up the many local problems we hear them raise each week on the doorstep or in our surgeries, and ensure that local councils have the power to act decisively on such problems."
Tim Gilling, Executive Director of the Centre for Public Scrutiny, said:
"Local authority scrutineers need the freedom to be able to gather evidence, and make recommendations, to any organisation spending money in the locality. Local residents, too, need to be able to know that their elected politicians are able to effectively hold to account those who make decisions affecting people's lives.
"These proposals will serve to consolidate both existing law and existing practice in the field, where many practitioners are having great success in using scrutiny to deliver tangible results for local people, by influencing those within and outside local government."
1. The Overview and Scrutiny Bill is being taking forward by David Chaytor MP.
2. The Government in its consultation on Strengthening Local Democracy set out its commitment to strengthen the scrutiny powers of local authorities over public spending in their areas.
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