One of the key aims of Localism is to devolve power to local people and their elected representatives. To do this the Localism Act will introduce a number of new freedoms and flexibilities for local government.
General power of competence – currently local authorities can only do what the law says they can. The Localism Act turns this on its head. The Localism Act will give local authorities a “general power of competence”, freeing up local authorities to do anything provided they do not break other laws.
Abolition of the Standards Board – at the moment all local authorities must adopt a national code of conduct and a standards committee. This oversees the work of councillors and handles complaints. The Localism Act abolishes this regime – local councils will be now adopt their own code of conduct.
Predetermination – the Localism Act clarifies the rules on predetermination. These rules were devised so that local councillors entered in to council discussions e.g. on a planning application with an open mind. However, this has often stopped councillors playing a full role in local life, particularly when speaking or campaigning on an issue. The Localism Act makes it clear that it is proper for councillors to play an active part in local discussions, and that they should not be liable to legal challenge as a result.
Greater local control over business rates. Supporting the local economy is one of the chief functions of local government. The Localism Act gives councils the ability to offer business rate discounts. This could be used to stimulate economic growth and attract investment.
Directly elected mayors. The Government believes elected mayors can provide strong leadership which is of real benefit to our largest cities. Elected mayors would help strengthen the governance of a city. They would be elected for a four-year term of office, and would have a direct mandate to lead focussing on long-term strategic decisions.
Local people will decide whether they want to have an elected mayor or not. The following cities are holding referenda on 3rd of May 2012: Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield. Leicester has recently elected a mayor.
For areas that vote in favour, mayoral elections will then be held shortly afterwards.
London – here greater powers over housing and regeneration will pass to local elected representatives in London. The Mayor will be empowered to carry on the housing investment activities currently carried out by the Homes and Communities Agency, and the economic development work done by the London Development Agency.
Empowering cities and other local areas. The Act will also allow the transfer of public functions from central government and quangos to local councils, combined authorities and economic prosperity boards. This will allow local areas to improve services and develop their local economy.
The various provisions in the Localism Act wil be introduced over a period of time but the Government expects many significant changes to be in place by April 2012.
More from the Government on Localism can be found here.
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