Localism Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 17th January 2011.

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 4:33 pm, 17th January 2011

I do not think that the answer should be more powers for the Secretary of State, for a start.

What I have said also applies to the community right to challenge. We are in favour of empowering front-line staff. In many instances, not just in local government but in the health service and elsewhere, our staff should be at the forefront in coming up with ways of improving services. Those on the front line often have better answers than some managers. Many councils of all political persuasions already engage community organisations and voluntary groups in the delivery of local services. That is not new, and we think that it should be encouraged. However, those organisations need support. Given that their resources are being cut throughout the country, and given that there is no provision other than the right to be considered, we remain to be convinced that this part of the Bill will mean much in practice.

The Secretary of State tells us that this Bill is the centrepiece of what the Government are trying to do to shake up the balance of power in the country fundamentally, but perhaps what is most striking about it is what it fails to deal with. Across every community in the country people often feel that they do not have enough of a say about what happens in their local area, whether in local bus services, community policing, the district hospital, or in the jobcentre's tackling unemployment. This Bill says nothing about that; it offers nothing to remedy that. Giving elected local representatives the power to summon people before their committees much as we do in the Committees of this House would be one simple, practical thing to give local communities a real say in the services that they use, but the Bill fails to do that.

In turning to the proposals- [Interruption.] Well, I understand from reading the Bill that scrutiny committees can summon an officer of the council, but they can merely invite someone from another organisation. There are no summoning powers over representatives of the utilities, for example, or over the district commander. That is what we are talking about: proper accountability, and proper powers for scrutiny committees.

On the Bill's proposals on housing, it is again difficult not to be disappointed. For some homeless households, a home in the private rented sector may be a better option than social housing if that avoids long waits in temporary accommodation and provides greater flexibility of location than social housing, but that should be a choice for the household involved, so we will not support a proposal if it allows the most vulnerable members of our communities to be forced into unsuitable accommodation.

What else is missing from the Bill? There is a complete absence of reforms to the private rented sector-the Bill does not even touch on the subject-and we remain to be convinced that there is sufficient quantity of decent homes in the private rented sector to house those in need.