Reforms in the Localism Bill aimed at furthering community engagement have been much debated over the last nine months both in and outside the parliamentary Houses. This isn’t surprising; most would support the principle of giving communities a more effective voice in local decision-making – but how can this best be delivered?
A potentially important reform for enhancing community engagement within the Bill is the Community Right to Challenge, whereby communities can submit expressions of interest in the running of services, providing that they can demonstrate an ability to “promote or improve the social, economic or environmental well-being of the authority area”.
While some within the sector and the general public have signalled their intention to embrace this move, questions remain as to how many local groups will be willing or able to take up such an opportunity. In particular, when considering areas in need of economic and social regeneration, there is a risk that a locality’s propensity to engage these powers will reflect existing capacity, rather than being a catalyst for change or improvement.
Perhaps reflecting these concerns, London Councils, the lobbying body that represents all London boroughs, believe that government should exercise caution when handing power direct to communities. Their overarching message is that it is local government’s duty to incentivise communities to speak up, while ultimately retaining a level of control over service provision. This is evidenced in the London Councils’ House of Lords Committee Briefing 2 of June 2011, which can be downloaded at: http://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/London%20Councils/110629LondonCouncilsbriefingLocalismBillCommit%20(2).pdf
We’ll be considering the implementation, and the implications, of community empowerment in London in more detail over the coming months.