Labour has denounced the Government’s flagship Localism Bill as a “sham”, claiming it will give ministers more than 100 new powers over local authorities, while placing new burdens on councils.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the Bill, which is to receive its second reading in the House of Commons, will shift power from central government into the hands of individuals, communities and councils around England.
He unveiled a list of organisations, from civic and community groups and business leaders to housing and planning professionals and local authorities, who are giving their backing to the legislation, which he hailed as “a triumph for democracy over bureaucracy”.
But his Labour shadow Caroline Flint said that the Bill would in fact hand Mr Pickles a range of new powers including setting the timing of mayoral elections and shortening the length of a mayor’s term; regulating the appointment of assistants to elected mayors; forcing a council to switch from a committee system to a mayor and cabinet, or directing it to hold a referendum on such a change; setting principles on what constitutes an “excessive” rise in council tax; and setting the threshold for petitions to trigger a local referendum.
Sources at the Department for Communities and Local Government said that most of the new powers cited were designed to ensure safeguards or to establish new systems.
But Ms Flint said: “The Tory-led Government’s claim to support localism is a sham. Despite their promise to devolve power to communities and local authorities, they’re actually taking power away from local people and giving more to Whitehall ministers.
“Not only does the Localism Bill propose giving ministers over 100 new powers, it also places extra burdens on local government when councils up and down the country are already being weighed down with Pickles’ diktats telling them what to do.
“At the same time, councils up and down the country are being hit by the Tory-led Government’s reckless frontloaded cuts, hitting local jobs, economic growth and the vital frontline services people rely on.”
Mr Pickles said the Bill would “fundamentally shake up the balance of power in this country”.
He said: “It represents everything this Government stands for and is the cornerstone for everything we want to do. It will revitalise local democracy and put power back where it belongs – in the hands of the people.”