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Petitioners’ power threatens cohesion

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Blears defends plan for local input

Extremists could exploit the new petitioners’ power and force councils to debate inflammatory proposals that damage cohesion, the Local Government Association has warned.

The Department for Communities & Local Government has also admitted that councils could have to respond formally to petitioners who call for an officer’s dismissal or a councillor’s resignation.

Communities and local government secretary Hazel Blears has launched a consultation on the new right which would allow anyone who can secure an unspecified number of signatures to require a council to respond.

Ms Blears has not defined ‘respond’, but said: “These powers would mean the concerns of local people can no longer be filed away and ignored. Giving local people a greater say is not a threat to local government’s legitimacy good councils actually do this already.”

Councillors could trigger scrutiny hearings if a council responded inadequately to a petition.

An LGA spokesman said: “Someone could raise a petition calling for all foreigners to be thrown out of an area, and the council would have to waste time and money responding.”

A DCLG spokeswoman said: “People are entitled to petition about any matter relating to the council we are simply saying that they should also be entitled to a formal response if enough people support it.

“That does not mean councils must always do what the petition says, but they should at least explain why.”

David Clark, director-general of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, said: “I’m not clear what ‘has to respond’ means, and people will sign petitions about anything.”

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