By Marcus Leach
Plans to force councils to pay EU fines and undertake costly referendums have been stopped by the Local Government Association (LGA), saving taxpayers £1.3 billion.
Whitehall proposed passing arbitrary EU fines on areas such as recycling and air quality onto council taxpayers, costing around £1 billion alone. Poorly supported local referendums, which would have created red tape and bureaucracy, have also been stopped in their tracks, saving local residents a further £300 million.
Despite being the most efficient part of the public sector, with councils facing cuts of 28 per cent over four years, these additional costs could have meant more lost services or higher costs for residents.
These are just two of a number of LGA wins secured over the Localism Bill, which is now just days away from being signed off into law. The success stories include:
Stopping EU fines being paid for by local residents. The Government had proposed these be automatically paid for by local authorities, costing around £1 billion. Now, every fine will be scrutinised and voted on in Parliament to decide who should pay them.
Removing £310 million local referendums. Under Whitehall plans a referendum would have to be held on any "local matter" which had the support by petition of five per cent of residents. These could have cost councils as much as £310 million over 10 years but have now been stopped.
Scrapping temporary mayors. The Government had proposed enforcing mayors onto cities without their approval. Any changes will now have to be agreed by a local referendum. Councils are the most efficient part of the public sector — so it is only right that individual authorities decide for themselves how they are run.
Giving local people control of their community. Whitehall had proposed dictating to councils how they should look after community assets — such as parks and important buildings. As a trusted pillar of local communities, councils are in the best position to look after important local assets, so removing these regulations is positive.
More local powers over planning. Under previous plans, forums of just three unaccountable people could have decided what developments should occur in local areas. After changes, these forums will have at least 21 members, including councillors. Importantly, as a trusted and transparent part of local communities, councils will also be able to ensure that these forums are being operated fairly.
Councillor Sir Merrick Cockell, Chairman of the LGA commented:
"There had been concerns that EU fines and unwanted local referendums could have cost councils as much as £1.3 billion so it is encouraging that the Government has listened.
"These additional billion pounds worth of costs would have hit councils hard at a time when they are working tirelessly to find savings to meet budget reductions.
"Furthermore, we have ensured that local people will have control over any new buildings or developments in the local area, as concerns had existed that the government's proposals were simply a developer's charter.
"The LGA has worked hard on ensuring this Bill can work for councils and will continue to offer support once it becomes law".