It’s not often that a Private Member’s Bill makes it to the statute books as it will more often than not run of of Parliamentary time. However Nick Hurd MP (pictured right) has successfully steered the Sustainable Communities Bill through the process after securing Government support along the way. But why am I covering it in this blog?

I proposed a Council Motion earlier this year, calling on the Chief Executive to write to Ruth Kelly to express the support of the Council for the Bill. It gives each Local Authority far more say in how all public money is spent in their area. I’ve added a copy of my opening speech below as it details the mechanics of the policy showing how residents of Sutton can direct the Government to spend our money on the areas that we want. The original Motion was a cross-party one. Although the LibDems amended it with some self-congratulatory backslapping remarks, the essence of the Motion remained and the Council did give support to this powerful bill.

“We are back here talking about an issue on which we both agree.

The Sustainable Communities Bill, currently working its way through Parliament, has been introduced by a backbench Conservative MP, Nick Hurd but has attracted the support of all LibDem and Conservative MPs and many Labour MPs, giving it a real chance of being on the statute books by July.

We’re not the most unlikely bedfellows in this strike for localism. Anything that can bring the Campaign for Real Ale together with the Women’s Institute inside a big tent really should have wide ranging political support as well.

Despite the fact that the Government crow about devolution, we have one of the most centralised states in the developed world with 3000 new targets introduced every day since 1997. We want to reduce the reach of Whitehall and unelected Quangos.

Phil Woolas, the Minister for local Government had to sign the order in Westminster to ban camper vans from parking in laybys in Carrick. Needless to say he had to ask one of his Civil Servants to tell him where Carrick was.

Centralisation has the same affect here in Sutton. The library that we are in is governed by no less than:-
10 Public Library Standardsand 16 Public Library Impact Measures.

Our policing is subject to a National Police Plan which sets out:-
5 key priorities to be delivered through
13 Statutory Performance Indicators
all within a Policing Performance Assessment Framework assessing each local force in
7 key areas on
32 perfomance indicators comprising of
56 components. Still with me?…

Is it any wonder that people feel that politics is so far removed from their everyday life? Can any politician make a difference? Why should people bother to vote?

Councils should be the collective instrument of local people rather than the local outposts of Central Government.

The Bill seeks to tackle Ghost-town Britain, those areas epitomised by parts of Wallington town centre where shops lay empty for several years, leading to a lack of civic pride and a downward spiral where people abandon it for surrounding towns.
It also help to reduce Identikit High Streets allowing local people to have more say in their surroundings.

But how would the Bill achieve this?

It has been described as double devolution, devolving power down to the Local Authorities who in turn devolve it down to communities. You can liken it to the Dedicated Schools Grant but with power as well as cash.

The Bill would force central government to publish an annual statement of the amount of public money spent in each community
and to explain what proportion of that spending is already controlled by local people.
It would then give local representatives the power to work out their own plan for how to allocate all the public expenditure in their area – except that which relates to national priorities such as acute healthcare.

We would be required to get members of the public to participate in this. Not consulting by a few shabby notices stuck to a lamp post or a narrow letter drop in August, but by using every method available. Our website, newspapers, community Group meetings and even that esteemed organ, Sutton Scene.

Residents will then tell us what they believe to be the priorities and how they should be tackled. This might be about traffic congestion in a particular area, it could be about keeping an individual post office or pub open, (hence the interest from CAMRA), who knows, it could even result in requests for more totem poles.

The ideas from each Local Authority are pooled to form an action plan consisting of a raft of enablement powers so that the Councils can then take the steps necessary to see that these are carried out.

The Government expresses its concern about a postcode lottery for services but that’s simply missing the point. This isn’t a command-economy style NHS. This is true local democracy with decisions and actions taken at the very lowest level by people who are accountable to those who will be affected. If you give people power they will make different decisions. Isn’t that’s the point? Local people and local councils will have a greater say on how all government money is spent – not just the money that goes through local government.

It is by reclaiming the ability for local communities to develop their own priorities and their own innovations that we will produce a far higher general standard. We want central government to show more humility about what it can achieve, and local communities to be more ambitious.

By giving local representatives far greater power to determine local spending priorities through the Sustainable Communities Bill, we will radically improve local accountability of local services, and provide a spur to popular participation.

This is not a single Bill solution. It won’t succeed unless:-
– Power is devolved right down to neighbourhoods, community groups and voluntary groups.
– And we care passionately about keeping facilities open. It is incumbent on us to use these shops, pubs and organisations.

It’s a start. It’ll work for those people who want it to work. Peter Mandelson once said “It may be that the era of pure representative democracy is slowly coming to an end.”
Let’s prove him wrong – again.
Let’s show our support for direct democracy.”