• ||On Friday 5th August two officers from the Department of Communities and Local Government, Mark Hitchen a member of the Decentralisation Team at the Department, accompanied by a young lady Joanne Chiverton, were met at Clacton Railway Station by our Chairman Sonia Grantham, who gave them a ‘Cooks’ tour of St Osyth, pointing out our recent achievements and other areas where the Parish Council would like to make further progress and where proposed new legislation may aid our objectives|
Mr Neil Williams, our Parish Council Clerk elect was also present at the Chairman’s invitation, so that he could be involved from the start of any future contact with the DCLG.
Mark Hitchen began by updating members with the progress of legislation through parliament and drew our attention to some salient points likely to be of special interest to a Parish such as St Osyth.
He discussed the decentralisation agenda, a part of the Localism Bill, by which this government is divesting itself of powers, a very contrary action as compared with all our governments since the war, that have left office after accumulating additional powers to the state. This action alone should greatly reduce bureaucracy, a present factor that can become an obstacle to progress...
For those who may be interested I précis below some of the detail.
He spoke about six actions of decentralisation
• Lift the burden of bureaucracy – by removing the cost and control of unnecessary red tape and regulation, whose effect is to restrict local action; and
• Empower communities to do things their way – by creating rights for people to get involved with, and direct the development of, their communities.
The next two actions provide the resources and the freedom of choice needed to sustain progress on decentralisation. They are to:
• Increase local control of public finance – so that more of the decisions over how public money is spent and raised can be taken within communities; and
• Diversify the supply of public services – by ending public sector monopolies, ensuring a level playing field for all suppliers, giving people more choice and a better standard of service.
The final two actions complete the picture by enabling local people to take complete control of the process of decentralisation as it affects them in their communities. They are to:
• Open up government to public scrutiny – by releasing government information into the public domain, so that people can know how their money is spent, how it is used and to what effect; and
Strengthen accountability to local people – by giving every citizen the power to change the services provided to them through participation, choice or the ballot box.
Mark Hitchen went on to speak about The Localism Bill and drew attention to a series of specific rights that can be exercised on the initiative of local people. The Bill will give local authorities a General Power of Competence, allowing them to do anything which is not specifically prohibited by law.
• Community right to buy – The Bill will give communities powers to save local assets threatened with closure, by allowing them to bid for the ownership and management of community assets.
• Neighbourhood plans – The Bill will radically reform the planning system to give local people new rights to shape the development of the communities in which they live.
• Community right to challenge – The Bill will give communities a right of challenge to run local authority services. This means that local communities will be able to get more involved in the delivery of public services and shape them in a way that will meet local preferences.
• Community right to buy – The Bill will give community organisations greater opportunity to identify and bid for assets of value to them, from which they can deliver existing or new services. As well as empowering communities (Action 2), this will diversify the providers of services and stimulate creative and imaginative new patterns of service and enterprise.
During the above presentations members were encouraged to ask questions, or point to problems they saw at Parish level and in some cases were able to made suggestion as to how the legislation could be improved, amongst which were suggestions that principle authorities should not be allowed to dismiss out of hand serious requests from Parishes for services to be transferred to them, with appropriate funding to run them. A copy of the Charter prepared by the Parish in 2003 and presented to Tendring District Council, was produced and given to the visitors as an illustration of what had been wrong with previous ‘Acts’, where there was no obligation for a ‘Principle Authority’ to respond positively to a Parish request for service transfer.
Our Chairman argued strongly for the retention of development money arising from new development in an area, to be allocated for projects within that area of development, rather than as proposed that all monies are placed in a central pot. She felt it better that a Parish knew what funds it had to spend, for example, on playgrounds and open spaces, rather than being forced to go with a begging bowl to the District Council.
All present enjoyed the opportunity to have a useful discussion during a buffet provided for our visitors, which concluded when travel plans intervened.
Mark Hitchen thanked the Council for their contributions and Sonia, on behalf of the Parish, thanked the delegation from DCLG for both informing us and taking note of our views on aspect of this new legislation. The Bill is expected to pass through both Houses of Parliament in November.