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Saturday, October 05, 2013

Living without Eric Pickles

For all its faults, and there are many especially when it comes to their attitude to local government and Wales' educational and health outcomes, whenever I see any initiative by Eric Pickles, I thank the Lord that it is the Welsh Government and not the Tories who are responsible for local councils here.

That instinctive reaction has been reinforced again today as a result of this article in the Telegraph, which reports that the UK Government is to give the Local Authority Publicity Code, currently guidance, legal force.  According to the Local Government Association this would effectively deny English Councils the right to protest on behalf of residents:

The highest profile campaign in recent months has been that by the 51m group of 19 councils of all political persuasions opposed to the £50 billion HS2 scheme.

“I have some sympathy with the Government there is obviously a need to crack down on frivolous campaign by local authorities,” said Martin Tett, Tory leader of Buckinghamshire County Council.

“However there is still a need for local authorities to be able to stand up for their residents on major issues which affect those residents

“We fought the last council election on a platform of opposing HS2 and believe we have been given a clear mandate to do so.”

The move also comes ahead of the Government hearing the initial findings of the Davies Commission into airport capacity in London and the South East.

When the last Government backed proposals for a Heathrow third runway, it ran into fierce opposition from councils underneath the flight path.

It is likely that councils whose residents would find themselves adversely affected by new proposals would use public money to defend their interests.

Sir Merrick Cockell, the chairman of the Local Government Association, condemned the proposals from Whitehall.

“Councils have a legitimate, local, democratic mandate. They have a proud history of campaigning on behalf of their residents who rightly look to them to unite communities and stand up for their best interests.

"That might often be inconvenient for central government, but a community being able to fight for or against unpopular or controversial proposals affecting their area is a key part of democracy.

“This independent legal advice also confirms our fears that a government could hand power to one individual in Whitehall to restrict councils from campaigning on important issues such as HS2 or hospital closures if they so wish.

“To simply make it easier for government to ignore the views of communities is unacceptable, sets a dangerous precedent and will mean local areas and residents will suffer as a result.

So much for localism.

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