Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Fifteenth Report

The draft Bill

General principles

3. The draft Bill, follows the publication in December 2001 of the White Paper Strong Local Leadership: Quality Public Services. The Government's introduction to the consultation paper on the draft Bill stated:

"Last December we published the White Paper Strong Local Leadership: Quality Public Services which represents a milestone in the history of the relationship between central and local government. The proposals in the White Paper seek to change the relationship between central and local government: to establish a partnership for the delivery of high quality services and to secure strong and responsive leadership by local government, freed from unnecessary Government controls."[1]

The proposal to change the balance between central and local government is admirable and generally supported amongst our witnesses. Unfortunately, our evidence suggested that the draft Bill fails to fulfil this commitment. Professor Gerry Stoker told us:

"It is a good starting point but it is not enough. I do not know anyone in the local government or the academic community who would describe themselves as even moderately excited by this draft Bill. It is not going to set the world on fire in terms of a change in the way in which central/local relations are constructed or the way in which local government should work."[2]

He continued,

"I do not think the Bill as it stands is going to be the Bill that we all look back at and say 'that was the Bill that regenerated local democracy or local government.'"[3]

4. We have also received evidence of concern from local authorities that central Government is concentrating on "establishing a national framework of standards and accountability"[4] at a much faster rate than "devolution to local councils to encourage diversity and creativity."[5] We heard from the Local Government Association that:

"The thrust of the Bill is I think welcome in the fact that it is a step in the right direction but from local government's point of view the challenge is to give the freedoms and the powers and the responsibilities to local government and by doing so to release the energy and innovation amongst those that work in local government. Therefore, we have seen so far, I think, some of the freedoms and flexibilities but probably fewer than we have seen progress on things like the Comprehensive Performance Assessment."[6]

5. The White Paper on which this Bill is based, raised considerable expectation about a change in the relations between central and local government. On the whole the draft Bill appears to be far from a radical overhaul and in many cases gives more powers to the Secretary of State. The way in which it is drafted could enmesh local authorities in more regulation. We are furthermore concerned that aspects of the Bill centralise powers unnecessarily. We strongly believe that if local government is going to regain the public respect and authority it once enjoyed, the Government must be prepared to trust it much more.


6. As with the Local Government Act 2000, our witnesses were concerned about the level of regulation proposed. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors stated:

"We are alarmed however at the quantity of secondary legislation to be initiated by these measures. We calculate there are over 50 regulations or order enabling powers that will need to be made as a result of the Bill."[7]

There was also a concern about the amount of power to be concentrated in the Secretary of State as a result. Westminister City Council's memorandum concluded,

"The City Council is concerned that the Secretary of State will be given new and wide ranging powers under the draft Bill."[8]

Many of our witnesses stressed that it would be hard to judge the likely effects of many measures within the Bill without sight of the regulations and stressed the importance of the draft regulations being available to Parliamentarians when the final Bill is considered.[9] Mr Raynsford made a commitment to provide draft regulations (or a description of the principles underpinning regulations) on all the "important" clauses within the Bill, when it reaches the Committee Stage.[10] We recommend that the volume of regulation should be reduced. Instead principles should be clearly articulated on the face of the Bill and be implemented through voluntary guidance and local discretion. Where regulations are necessary, draft regulations should be available for consideration alongside the Bill at the Committee Stage.

1   Paragraph 1, Local Government Bill-Consultation on legislation, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, June 2002 Back

2   Q321 Back

3   Q322 Back

4   Foreword, Strong Local Leadership: Quality Public Services, DTLR, December 2001, CM5327 Back

5   Foreword, Strong Local Leadership: Quality Public Services Back

6   Q3 Back

7   LGB19 Back

8   LGB23 Back

9   For example, Qq169 and 269 Back

10   Qq701-702 Back

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