Magazine article Public Finance

White Paper Aims to Kickstart Community Activism

Magazine article Public Finance

White Paper Aims to Kickstart Community Activism

Article excerpt

A bid to revitalise local democracy and hand control over assets and spending to local communities were at the heart of the local government white paper published by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears on July 9.

Communities in control real peoph, real power outlines a mixture of proposals, including setting up an asset transfer unit to speed up the transfer of local authority assets to community ownership; amending the 'Widdicombe rules' to allow more council staff to be involved in political activity; and offering incentives, such as prize draws, to the public for voting in elections.

Launching the white paper, Blears said 'In many parts of the country, local democracy needs a boost, with low turnout at local elections and people feeling they can't influence the way some issues are decided in their area. This needs to change!

She added. 'Politicians have a contract with those that they serve - that contract now needs to be rewritten to ensure that the views of local people are taken more into account'

Blears told MPs that the community empowerment plans would create a duty for councils to respond to petitions signed by over 5% of the population in their area. There would be a review of whether councils should provide 'financial redress' for citizens if service promises are not met

The white paper will also allow for the expansion of participatory budgeting where local people help set spending priorities - to all councils by 2012.

In addition, the white paper aims to make it easier for local authorities to establish a directly elected mayor, by permitting online petitioning and lowering the threshold required to trigger a mayoral referendum from 5% of the population to possibly just 2%.

To try to encourage more people to be councillors, provision would be made to allow remote participation and voting in meetings.

People will also be able to appeal to the secretary of state if their attempt to establish a village, neighbourhood or community council is denied by their local authority.

Blears said the plans laid out in the white paper would herald a new era of community activism. 'We will transfer more assets such as community centres, street markets, swimming pools, parks and land to local community ownership. We want to see more local co-ops and mutually owned groups running local services,' she said. …

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