More steps in the localism shuffle

Earlier today both Chris White and Nick Barlow pointed out how the government’s “localism agenda” (formerly known as the man in Whitehall doesn’t know best) has taken two steps back this week. But for the two steps back, there are also two steps forward: with councils being given more discretion to decide what parking charges should be in their own patch (a piece of localism which will most likely see some Conservative councils downplay environmental considerations in setting charges, but if you believe in local decision-making…) and also, hooray, a scrapping of the “pre-determination rule” in England.

You may have missed the protesting chants, “What do we want?” “An end to the ban on pre-determination”, mostly because they’ve not existed. But it is a very welcome move.

Consider the previous situation.

Resident is annoyed about a plan for their community.

Resident decides to stand for council to do something about it.

Resident campaigns, saying “Vote for me so I can stop this plan”.

Residents vote for said resident.

Resident becomes a councillor.

Plan comes up for vote at council…

… and council lawyer steps in: “Terribly sorry, but hang on a moment. Congratulations on getting elected and all that – but as you said you would oppose the plan if elected that means you’d already made up your mind before this council debate started. And you’re not allowed to do that. So you’re banned from voting”.

The pre-determination rule was deeply anti-democratic: it banned council candidates from telling voters their views on certain issues unless they wanted to then lose the right to vote on them.

Steps back, steps forward: keeping track of the localism shuffle is by no means a simple affair, especially as some of the steps forward are coming from Conservatives as well as Liberal Democrats. But what it does mean is that keeping up the pressure on decentralisation is important – and especially for councillors who can use councillor and council associations to get their views through to ministers.

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11 Comments

  • Good news about pre-determination but pretty insignificant news about parking charges. As the Government has cut councils funding drastically in most cases I wouldn’t expect too many to reduce charges now they are allowed to….

  • I am actually glad that someone has flagged this up. This was a toxic mix of scum lawyers and jumped up quangos overruling the voters. The abolition of the Standards Board is most welcome. Every credit to the Coalition on this point.

  • Tony Greaves 4th Jan '11 - 10:38pm

    The “fettering” rule on planning applications was never really legislated for – it crept in as a result of bossy interference by the local government ombudsman.

    Tony Greaves

  • The example you’ve given is utter nonsense. It doesn’t apply to manifesto commitments and policy statements.

    This change will mean that a member of the public can no longer complain if they believe a councillor acted due to a vested interest, for example on planning applications. I believe the Peter and Iris Robinson case in Northern Ireland is an example, or provides a similar example, where they sold the bottom of their garden.

    The Standards were all about ethics and transparency in local government. These are now being dropped. Backward steps without a doubt.

  • The bizarre situation you outlined does in exist in Parliament though.

    Consider the present situation:

    Resident is annoyed about plan for their community.

    Resident joins local party and stands for parliament.

    Resident campaigns, saying “Vote for me so I can stop this plan”.

    Residents vote for said resident.

    Resident becomes an MP

    Plan comes up for vote at Parliament

    … and party whip steps in: “Terribly sorry, but hang on a moment. Congratulations on getting
    elected and all that – but – the party now wants you to vote with this plan. If you don’t – well, life can be made quite difficult for you.”

  • Dominic Curran 5th Jan '11 - 1:28pm

    Mark – well written.

    Going on from what you said and from what Richard SM has written above, i have been wondering how this might apply to Vince Cable. He and many other LibDems will have been elected with people knowing that they were antagnoistic towards News Corporation, and yet they are asked to make a neutral judgement about it. But the issue is as political as it is legal. Why can we not also scrap pre-determination rules for MPs, if we doing so for councillors? In my view exactly the same logic applies to both types of representative.

  • Paul Griffiths 5th Jan '11 - 2:11pm

    @ RichardSM

    “This change will mean that a member of the public can no longer complain if they believe a councillor acted due to a vested interest, for example on planning applications.”

    See Para 17 of the Localism Bill.

  • @Paul Griffiths

    Clause 17: The regulations may make provision for restrictions on taking part in the business of the council to be imposed on a member or co-opted member with a registered or declared interest.

    Its still appears to be work-in-progress, but it is suggesting the “pre-determination” aspects may be carried forward into the Localism Bill. Let’s see what happens, but the announcement seems premature if it hasn’t all been thought through yet.

  • Maybe the premature announcement illustrates a desperation to find any slivers which might be seen as “good news.”

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