Communities Secretary Eric Pickles today announced a package of powerful new rights for communities to challenge services and preserve local assets.
The new Community Rights measures are yet another leap towards localism and the decentralisation of power from Whitehall.
The Localism Bill, due to be announced on Monday (13 December), will enshrine in law rights for community and voluntary groups to draw on when determining what happens in their local area.
Community Right to Buy. Local groups will have a legal right to nominate any vital community asset including local shops, pubs, libraries and leisure centres to be assessed for recording on a ‘most wanted’ list by the local council. If a listed asset goes on the open market, its sale will be delayed triggering a ‘community countdown’ that will give people time to prepare their business plan and raise the funds they need to bid.
Community Right to Challenge. Opening the door to a transformation in the way that local public services are run, Right to Challenge gives community or voluntary sector groups, as well as parish councils and council employees delivering the service, new powers to challenge and take over a local service. This could include running children’s centres, social care services and even improving local transport links. Under the new law, councils must respond to this challenge and consider the positive impact the proposal could have on the community. If the proposal is turned down the council must publish the reasons for this. This new right puts voluntary and charity groups on the front foot when it comes to running public services and has the potential to open up new revenue for them.
Last week, Mr Pickles announced new rights for communities to shape the development of the communities in which they live, through the creation of neighbourhood plans. The Localism Bill will radically reform the planning system so local people have a greater say and influence over what their home town will look like in the future.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, said:
This powerful series of measures puts new rights in law for people to protect, improve and even run important frontline services. For too long people have been powerless to intervene as vital community resources disappear from their areas. The Community Rights measures will put control back where it belongs - with the people at the heart of our villages, towns and cities.
The Rights are also a massive opportunity for the community and voluntary sector to demonstrate their innovation and the new ideas they can bring to the table for better, cost effective services.
Local facilities have been closing down all over the country, leaving towns and villages without vital amenities. Small community groups that are willing to take over local assets often find that they lack the time and resources to get a plan together and compete with the might and muscle of big business and developers, who can throw significant time and resource behind projects.
Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark, added:
Voluntary and community groups already successfully provide services including education, social care and tackling worklessness. But there are many more groups who have been locked out or passed over in favour of the same old way of doing things. The government wants to see councils making the most of the talents and ingenuity of these organisations and this new measure will make sure that good ideas get a proper hearing.
The new rights intend to level the playing field and make it easier for voluntary groups to move from the sidelines to centre stage when it comes to delivering services as part of the Big Society”.
The Right to Challenge legislation gives voluntary, community and charitable groups, as well social enterprises, parish councils and local authority employees, the legal right to express an interest to run a service. Councils must respond to these challenges and consider the positive impact the proposal could have on the community. Councils can then put the proposals to the test about how the service would work.
Communities Minister Andrew Stunell, said:
These groundbreaking measures puts communities at the heart of decision making for protecting vital frontline services and puts them on the front foot for putting in an offer if they come up for closure.
Notes to editors
- For examples of community groups and civic societies who have already taken action in their local areas, please contact the DCLG press office.
2. These measures will be included in the Localism Bill, due to be announced on Monday 13 December. Further details on the measures will be set out in secondary legislation.
3. The Community Right to Buy will require local authorities to maintain a list of sites of community value put forward for consideration by communities. The local authority will assess the suggestions before recording on the list. When listed land comes up for disposal (either the freehold or a long leasehold), communities will be given the chance to develop a bid and raise the capital to buy the asset. They will then be in a better position to bid to buy the asset when it comes on the market at the end of the moratorium.
4. This will help local communities to save sites which are important to the community, which will contribute to tackling social need and building up resources in their neighbourhood. The Bill will provide the framework for the Right, the detail of which will be set out in secondary legislation, and subject to public consultation in the new year.
5. The Community Right to Challenge will enable voluntary, community and charitable groups, as well social enterprises, mutuals, co-operatives, parish councils and local authority employees looking to deliver the service as a new employee-led organisation, to express an interest in running a local authority service. This may trigger a procurement exercise for the service in which the challenging organisation can participate alongside other bidders.
6. The measure includes a minimum period (to be set out in secondary legislation) between an expression of interest being accepted and a procurement exercise starting. This will enable public sector workers, where they are not the challengers, to decide whether they want to bid to run the service, and to organise themselves to do this. This should also assist smaller and new voluntary sector organisations. We are also proposing that we require local authorities to consider the relevant and proportionate social impacts of both expressions of interest and bids.
7. These measures ensure that the right to challenge better supports the Government’s work on public sector workers and its objectives to increase the involvement of the voluntary sector in delivering public services.
8. The local authority will need to publish its response to the expression of interest and set out reasons where it decides not to take a proposal forward. This will ensure that decision making is transparent and the council is accountable to local people for its decision.
9. Right to Challenge follows from the Right to Provide announcement by the Cabinet Office on Wednesday 17 November. Right to Provide means that public service employers will be expected to accept suitable proposals from front line staff who want to take over and run their services as mutual organisations.
www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/news/big-society-plans-better-public-services (external link).
10. The Government will introduce a new right for communities to shape their local areas by creating neighbourhood plans, and introduce powerful new incentives to encourage local communities to approve sustainable development. The new neighbourhood plans will be flexible so communities will be able to determine the issues or areas to cover and what level of detail they want to go into. www.communities.gov.uk/news/newsroom/1788714.
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