The Localism Act was introduced in November 2011.
The aim of the act was to devolve more decision making powers from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils. The act covers a wide range of issues related to local public services, with a particularly focus on the general power of competence, community rights, neighbourhood planning and housing. The key measures of the act were grouped under four main headings;
- new freedoms and flexibilities for local government
- new rights and powers for communities and individuals
- reform to make the planning system more democratic and more effective
- reform to ensure decisions about housing are taken locally.
The Department of Communities and Local Government published a Plain English guide to Localism Act.
Some of the key aspects of the Localism Act for local authorities are as follows:
General Power of Competence (GPC)
The GPC was introduced as part of the Localism Act in November 2011 – it came into force for Principal authorities in February 2012.
Under the GPC a local authority has power to do anything that individuals of full legal capacity may do giving authorities the power to take reasonable action they need ‘for the benefit of the authority, its area or persons resident or present in its area'.
It is hoped that the GPC will give local authorities the opportunity to develop new and innovative business models in ways that were previously disallowed. It is further hoped that it will increase confidence, promote innovation and creativity.
The LGA has published an essay ‘Power to make a difference' written by Nicholas Dobson of Pannone Solicitors, the essay explores the potential of the power.
The GPC was intended to give councils a greater degree of freedom to trade and charge. The LGA with Local Partnerships produced a guide 'Enterprising Councils' which focuses on how councils, on their own or working with public bodies, can be enterprising by increasingly trading and charging. It also highlights some of the innovative approaches that councils are using already, which others could look to replicate, should this be appropriate locally.
Further background information for local authorities in the GPC can be found on this
In July 2013 the LGA published a paper 'Empowering councils to make a difference' that looks in detail at the usage of the GPC by councils. The paper shows that councils are currently using the power to promote innovation in a number of areas – it also outlines constraints of the power and ‘top tips'. Case studies from a range of councils are included in the annex to the paper.
‘Empowering councils to make a difference' was launched at a conference on 23 July 2013. Presentations from the conference can be found here:
The Localism Act enshrined in law a new set of rights for communities. These are:
- Community right to challenge.
- Community right to bid.
- Community right to build.
Community right to challenge
The Community right to challenge came into force in June 2012. This allows voluntary and community groups, parish councils or two or more members of local authority staff to express an interest in running a service currently commissioned or delivered by a local authority. Where the expressions of interest are accepted, the local authority must run a competitive procurement.
Community right to bid
The Community right to bid came into force in September 2012. The Community right-to-bid allows communities to nominate buildings and land that they consider to be of value to the community, to be included on a local authority maintained list. If any of the assets on the register are put up for sale, the community is given a window of opportunity to express an interest in purchasing the asset, and another window of opportunity to bid.
The LGA, in partnership with Locality, have published guidance on the community right to bid and asset transfer for Officers and councillors.
Further information on the community right to bid can be can be found here
The government has issued a non-statutory advice note on the community right to bid
Read the advice note
Neighbourhood planning and community right to build
The Localism Act introduced statutory neighbourhood planning in England.
The Localism Act sets out how communities will be able to get more involved in planning for their areas – specifically around creating plans and policies to guide new development and in some cases granting planning permission for certain types of development.
A guide for Councillors on Neighbourhood Planning has been produced by the Planning Advisory Service;
Neighbourhood planning: a simple guide for ward councillors (PDF, 20 pages, 302KB) – on the Planning Advisory Service website.
Locality, a network of community-led organisations, has also produced a guide to neighbourhood planning:
A quick guide to neighbourhood planning – Locality's networking website.
Community Right to Build
The Community right to build allows local communities to undertake small-scale, site-specific, community-led developments.
The new powers aim to give communities the freedom to build new homes, shops, businesses or facilities where they want them, without going through the normal planning application process.
To proceed the proposals must:
- have the agreement of more than 50 per cent of local people that vote through a community referendum
- meet some minimum requirements (for example, they should generally be in line with national planning policies and strategic elements of the local plan)
The Standards Board for England, which previously oversaw complaints about Councillor conduct, was formally abolished.
From 1 July 2012, all standards matters became the responsibility of local authorities, to be handled under the new arrangements. This new arrangements also include a 'Nolan-based' code, the involvement of an independent person in allegations of misconduct, and a new criminal offence for failing to declare or register interests, coming into force.
The LGA has published an illustrative code of conduct for reference.
DCLG have also published a guide that gives basic practical information to councillors about how to be open and transparent about their personal interests.
Local authority governance
The Localism Act gave councils new powers over their executive arrangements allowing them to operate either:
- a leader and cabinet
- a committee system.
The availability of the committee system as a governance option for all councils in England has led a number of councils to consider changing their governance arrangements.
The Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) and the LGA have produced two publications to help councils considering making a change. The first published by CfPS provides practical steps to making a change:
CfPS and the LGA have jointly produced a guide to assist councils to think about the key challenges in changing governance arrangements.
This hub aims to provide an online forum for councils to discuss the localism agenda, learn more about the provisions of the Localism Act 2011, explore how to implement the legislation to benefit your local communities and share examples of localism in practice. This forum helps to support all those who work in local government from councillors and chief executives through to policy officers, heads of service and frontline staff.