The Sustainable Communities Act 2007 exists because of Conservative support. David Cameron launched the draft Bill in November 2006 and I took it through Parliament as a Private Member's Bill in 2007. It is a response to widespread concern about the impact on communities of losing local services such as post offices and bank branches. It is rooted in a Conservative commitment to give local communities greater freedom to assert local priorities. The Act enjoys very wide popular support with over ninety national organisations signed up to the Local Works campaign coalition.
The Act does two things:
- It asks Local Authorities to consult with their communities and come back with new ideas for policies and powers that they need to promote more sustainable communities.
- It requires Government to publish local spending reports that break down public expenditure by local authority area. Local Authorities can then challenge that spending and argue for reallocation to fit local priorities.
Local Authorities do not have to respond. Those that do have to get their ideas in by end of July 2009.
But how it can work for you and your constituents?
For candidates and coucillors, it presents ready-made campaigns demonstrating your commitment to local priorities for local people: Saving Post Offices, Protecting Against Garden Grab, Flexible Business Rates, Local Spending Transparency…
Many of the organisations who have campaigned for this hugely popular Act will be active in your constituency and will value your active participation in the campaign to make this Act really work. Their support reflects widespread concern about community breakdown in Britain as more and more local services are lost. This Act will give you the tools to enable local people to have their say.
Used properly, it can be the mechanism for your Local Authority to gain new powers and access new resources to meet the needs of your constituents. In my are,a for example, I can see how this Act could be used to give greater protection for post offices and gardens – both of which will be very popular. My Local Authority Leader wants to use the Act to get greater flexibility in what business rates he can charge on the High Street. Our network is buzzing with ideas.
Three Campaigning ideas
- If your Council has decided to not opt in to the Act and respond, ask them very publicly: "Why Not?"
- Run your own consultation and campaign around what you think your Council should be asking for.
- “Show us the Money“
“Show us the Money“ will be a popular campaign and supported by your local media and your taxpaying constituents. More and more taxpayers’ money is being spent by unelected quangos. In Gordon Brown’s first year in office, spending on so-called “executive non-departmental public bodies” rose by 16%. The Taxpayers’ Alliance has estimated that £64 billion a year is now spent by unelected quangos – equivalent to £2,550 for every single household.
Now more than ever we need greater transparency in public expenditure. We need to be able to see how the State is spending money in our name and we should be free to challenge it. The Sustainable Communities Act is the first step on that journey.
It requires the Government to publish Local Spending reports. The principle is that we should receive a regular breakdown of the amount of public money spent in each community, and explain how much of that spending is controlled by local people and how much by Whitehall. Communities, through their local authority, have the right to challenge that expenditure allocation. So for example if we don’t like what Business Link are doing in our area to support local businesses, we can argue for their function and budget to be transferred to someone else.
But in a consultation paper recently issued by the Department for Communities & Local Government, the plans for reports on local spending under the new Act have been severely watered down. Only spending information by councils and NHS Primary Care Trusts will be published – and this is already in the public domain. Ministers have broken their pledge to publish figures on quango and central government expenditure in local areas.
This wholly inadequate consultation document is a betrayal of commitments made by the Minister to Parliament. I can only assume that they want to stop local people finding out which areas gets a raw deal from the Government.
So, as a candidate or councillor, there really is considerable scope for campaigning under the remit of the Act, and I am here to help you. If you would like to talk through ideas for your constituency or gather together as a group of regional PPCs, I would be happy to address a meeting. By campaigning together across a local authority you may have a bigger impact.
Don’t underestimate the interest of the public – the most recent meeting in Oliver Letwin’s constituency attracted over four hundred people!