Local authorities and some town and parish councils are to get a ‘general power of competence’, under plans set out in the delayed Localism Bill.
The legislation was finally and briefly introduced into the House of Commons on Monday night for its first reading and is set to be discussed more fully by MPs during a second reading.
As well as proposals on senior pay, mayors, council tax referendums, social housing reform, the bill sets out long-awaited detail on a general power of competence which is set to give local authorities more freedom.
However, as previously reported by LGC, the legislation allows the secretary of state to limit how councils exercise the power.
While the power of general competence and other parts of the Localism Bill has been welcomed by the Local Government Association, a spokesman for the body said the bill showed how ministers have struggled to implement their “post-bureaucratic age”. The association counted 142 separate instances where the detail and implementation of the bill would be taken forward through “regulations, order-making powers, duties, statutory guidance and requirements on local authorities”.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the bill revolves around the creation of directly elected mayors. The secretary of state will have the power to put shadow elected mayors in place and to initiate a mayoral referendum. Intruigingly, however, the bill contains a reserve power for the secretary of state to transfer to a mayor any function of any public body.
The LGA described the power as potentially having “huge significance” and that it could “support the delivery of increasingly accountable, cohesive and efficient public services”.
In an initial response to the bill the LGA were also highly critical of plans to make councils contribute towards EU fines.
A spokesman said the measure “has been imposed without any consultation with the sector” and would result in a “significant and unjustified financial strain” on councils. “The EU treaty clearly states that only governments are liable for fines,” the spokesman added.