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Petition from 5% to force debate

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Petitions supported by 5% of residents should automatically be debated in full council, the Department for Communities & Local Government has proposed.

Long-awaited government guidance on residents’ calls for action stated that all petitions should get a response from the local authority, but it should be proportionate to the
importance of the issue or level of support.

The DCLG’s document said consultations should always “be substantive” and “not a tick box exercise”.

Rick Muir, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, insisted the guidance would not lead to an administrative burden on councils and said the proposed number of signatories needed to trigger a council hearing was “about right”.

Mr Muir added: “This allows people to set the agenda of local politicians more directly than voting every four years.”

However, Hilary Kitchin, policy analyst at the Local Government Information Unit, was more sceptical. “The incidents in which full council would be expected to consider a petition would be fairly rare and probably issues that should be debated anyway if there was that level of concern,” she said.

Under the plan, overview and scrutiny committees would consider appeals if petitioners felt the council had not responded properly to their lobbying. If the appeal was upheld by the committee, then the petition would be discussed in full council. However, councils would not have to respond to “frivolous, vexatious or discriminatory” petitions.

The government said people who work, study or live in the local authority area should be eligible to sign petitions and councils could use the address details provided by signatories to check their identities if necessary.

Petitions can only cover issues for which the local authority has responsibility, or for health, with councils acting as advocates for petitions about local primary care trusts.

However, planning petitions will not be allowed as there are already provisions for them in the existing planning consultation process and complaints about the treatment of individuals by the council should be excluded.

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