With cuts to public spending threatened, councils are searching for every possible way to save money while protecting frontline services. This makes the need for a broad interpretation of the so-called wellbeing power more critical than ever.
Local government operates in a legal framework that is no longer fit for purpose. Changes in either legislation or how it is interpreted are imperative if we are to tackle the challenging times ahead.
That is why Harrow LBC, along with Brent LBC, have sought and been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. Decisions since the Court of Appeal ruled that we, along with two other councils, had acted ultra vires in setting up the London Authorities Mutual Limited, suggest we should be successful.
We are confident that the Supreme Court will interpret the wellbeing power detailed in section two of the Local Government Act 2000 as broadly as we believe it should be.
There seems to be a broad consensus among Labour and Conservative politicians that councils need additional powers. If they are granted the power of general competence it might eliminate the need for reliance on and arguments about Section Two - wellbeing - powers entirely.
Even if politicians are reluctant to hand such far-reaching powers to local government, current discussions suggest agreement could be reached around powers to facilitate innovative working between councils and their public sector partners.
Such powers could underpin the Total Place agenda and allow ideas to flourish that are currently strangled by uncertainty about councils’ powers to implement them .
They also allow less risk of a maverick council embarking on a left-field mission, which might not be in the best interests of its residents, while opening the door for innovative projects between councils and their partners, which would protect frontline services.
Overall, Harrow’s aim, as a stage two Total Place pilot authority, remains ensuring that changes are made to the legal framework to enable us to preserve and enhance our frontline services. Either route - victory in the Supreme Court or new legislation - will help us along that road.
Hugh Peart, Director of legal & governance services, Harrow LBC