Turning power upside down in South Gloucestershire
The Sustainable Communities Act, according to its supporters, 'set up a new process where councils and communities can drive the actions and assistance that central government does and gives to promote sustainability locally'. Local councils convene 'panels of representative persons', and make recommendations to the Secretary of State about new powers which local authorities would like to be given. Hazel Blears says that it 'turns power upside down in this country'.
The reality is somewhat less impressive. The first set of proposals have been submitted, and they look very much like the local government equivalent of Early Day Motions - a way for local politicians to show that they are concerned about local issues, but with little chance of impacting on any actual policies.
The next steps in this process are that the chairman of the selection panel, 'Kaiser' Keith Mitchell, Tory leader of Oxfordshire County Council, gets to sift through these proposals and recommend some of them to the government, who will then ignore them. This will give the local authority a chance to issue an outraged press release about how their recommendations such as "appointing planning inspectors who know and understand the local area" have been turned down.
So far, mostly harmless (and it is even possible that one or two recommendations might even be accepted, as long as they don't involve additional spending or bother for central government). But one which caught my eye was South Gloucestershire council's suggestion that they shouldn't have to provide designated sites for travellers.
About a year and a half ago, I raised the concern with the co-ordinator of the 'Local Works' campaign that the process in the Act seemed to create opportunities for proposals aimed at persecuting unpopular, minority groups. He assured me that there were adequate safeguards, and that local authorities had to ensure that the panels of people included those from 'under represented groups'. I wonder how many gypsies or travellers were included on the panel which suggested removing the requirement to provide designated sites?