According to the Government’s press release it is “radical”, “ground breaking” and “unprecedented” which will “revolutionise” local communities. But stripping away the clichés what do the new Localism Bill and the council budget settlements announced today actually mean for Chislehurst?
Council tax rises
Bromley Council has emerged relatively well from the council cuts with a year-on-year budget reduction of 2.5 per cent.
This is below the 4.4 per cent UK council average and lower than Bromley’s neighbours – Lewisham, Greenwich, Bexley and Croydon.
The Government has also announced a fund to help pay for services that might have come from a tax rise, so on paper at least the prospect of a big council tax rise in Bromley is low.
The right to veto
If there is a hefty council tax rise then under the Localism Bill proposals residents will have the right to veto the rise in a special local referendum. However, we’ll only be able to use the veto if the tax rise is above an as-yet unspecified ceiling to be decided by MPs.
In a further attempt to give power to the local people, we’ll be able to call – if there is sufficient support – for a referendum on a specific local issue. Local authorities and public bodies will be required to “take note” of the result. Whether this will have any real effect is debatable given that, for example, the local NHS Trust failed to “take note” of the very significant protest over the closure of Queen Mary’s A&E department. However, local referenda will certainly put issues on the public agenda.
Big Society bin men
There are proposals in the Bill that go deep into Big Society territory – the David Cameron ideology about getting local people to do stuff for themselves rather than relying on the state. It is here that the Government will have to do a bit more explaining.
The boldest idea is of “local challenge”. It goes like this: If we are unhappy with a Bromley Council service and think we can do the job better ourselves then we should form a community group. We then need to challenge the council which may open the service to tender. Through our community group we then bid to run the service.
It’ll be interesting to see how many local people have the time, skills or inclination to do this.
What do you think? Is the idea of local people running local services bonkers or a brainwave? Leave us your comments at the end of this article.