NALC Chief executive sent out the following information last week about activity in Parliament.
Please take particular note of the second item on the Local Audit Bill which has the potential to place an additional burden on hard pressed Clerks - even to small councils. NALC are seeking feedback on these proposals for them to take back to Government.
If any of you do respond to NALC I would appreciate being copied in so I can gain an awareness of your concerns.
Bills going through Parliament
- I was delighted a debate took place in the House of Lords last Thursday on the creation of parish councils. Lord Greaves had put down an amendment to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill in order to promote the issue, calling for the government to “put a bit more oomph behind this process” adding “more active promotion is needed at local authority level….to persuade the members and officers of these big councils that having parish and, where appropriate, town councils in their areas would assist in the processes of local democracy and in the delivery of local services”. A number of Peers took part in the debate and supported the amendment including our president Lord Taylor who said “I think that it is really important both for neighbourhood planning and for planning more widely to establish parish councils wherever possible. I wanted to use this amendment as a hook to say to the Government that I think that efforts should be made to see parishing not only across all rural areas but across equivalent democratically accountable bodies in urban areas at the local neighbourhood scale. As I said, this is something that the National Association of Local Councils has argued for”, and also Lord Tope who commented “I have supported parishing and parish councils all my political life, but while it may be desirable, it will not happen quickly enough for the purposes that we are debating today”. In response the minister Lord Bourne spoke about the advice and support available to support neighbourhood planning, steps the government have taken to make it easier to set up parish councils and considering what can be done to tackle parishing in London. We are meeting the minister on 22 February and will be picking this issue up then. You can read the Hansard transcript of the session or watch the video. Report stage is on 23 and 28 February and we are continuing to promote measures to give neighbourhood plans more weight and support the creation of parish councils.
- The Local Audit (Public Access to Documents) Bill – which seeks to enable journalists, including citizen journalists, to have the same rights of inspection as a local elector – passed through its Committee stage in the Commons this week without amendment. We briefed MPs on the key points from our informal consultation response including supporting the principle of the Bill but highlighting the extra burden and additional costs arising from the provision of documents as well as the need for further consideration of the definition of a journalist/citizen journalist. We had expected smaller parish councils with an annual turnover of less than £25,000 would be exempted but during the debate the local government minister Marcus Jones said they would be covered. I would welcome further views on this Bill, please email for more details and to give us your feedback. You can read the Hansard transcript of the session or watch the video.
- On Tuesday the Local Government Finance Bill had two Committee sessions in the Commons; the Bill includes a number of measures of interest such as providing a framework to allow local government to retain 100% of non-domestic rates, replacing the yearly local government finance settlement with a multi-year settlement and multi-year council tax referendum principles and enabling local authorities to grant discretionary relief for local authority public toilets. Key points we have briefed on include: promoting the important role of local councils in providing services which are funded by residents through a small share of council tax and limited income from other sources; welcoming the new power for principal councils to grant business rates relief on public toilets but calling for the Government to go further with compulsory full relief; pressing for a share of business rates to support the growing role of local councils in economic development and local growth; and for the removal of the power of the secretary of state to set council tax referendum principles for local councils (this was the subject of an amendment by the shadow local government minister Jim McMahon MP). Catch up on all sessions so far on Hansard or watch the video of the Tuesday’s morning and afternoon debates.