Local Authority Boundaries

– in the House of Commons at 1:56 pm on 7 December 2022.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley 2:05, 7 December 2022

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about changing local authority boundaries in cases where there is public support for such changes;
and for connected purposes.

Local representation matters. Individuals and communities need to have trust in their local authority, which is charged with acting in their best interest, regardless of which political party may be in charge at a local level. Residents need to be reassured that the framework, the model, the structure and, indeed, the geographical area represented mean that the local authority has the capacity and the capability of acting in their best interest.

My Local Authority Boundaries Bill aims to re-empower local communities that feel completely disenfranchised and forgotten about by their local authority. Let us not forget that local authorities have perhaps one of the most important influences on an individual or a family’s day-to-day life than any other level of government. Whether it be sorting out highways and potholes, putting in speeding cameras, dealing with local planning policy, housing, schools, children’s services, adult services, bin collection, leisure centres, libraries and regeneration, and driving local economic growth, local authorities are incredibly important. As organisations, they must represent the entire geographical area encompassed by their boundaries, and, most importantly, deliver for local communities based on their local priorities.

In my view, if a local authority is too large in terms of the number of residents it represents, its geographical area is too great, or a single city is getting all the attention from the local authority, with the outlying towns and villages being deprioritised, then there is a risk that communities will suffer. The sense of place is lost and people become disenfranchised or even completely forgotten about. At a local level, that is the very challenge that I face.

I represent perhaps one of the most important and beautiful parts of the United Kingdom. Keighley, Ilkley, Silsden, Steeton, Riddlesden, East Morton, the Worth Valley and the areas in my wider constituency are full of passionate people who, quite rightly, are incredibly proud of where they live. For too long, though, the area I represent has felt completely unrepresented and ignored by our local authority, Bradford Council.

Constituents in Keighley and Ilkley, and indeed in Shipley and Bingley, represented by my hon. Friend Philip Davies, are fed up of living in the shadow of Bradford, getting a rough deal and having to put up with the incompetence and poor service provision from our local authority. This Bill aims to change this disconnect by giving local communities such as mine the option to have their say on refocusing and realigning local authorities to be local, and to deal with and deliver on local priorities.

The mechanics of my Bill are simple: they place a requirement on the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to lay regulations that would enable two or more parliamentary constituency areas, such as Keighley and Ilkley, and Shipley, to form a new local authority if, when combined, they form a continuous area. Quite rightly, as part of that process, public will and deep local support would need to be evidenced, so this Bill sets out the mechanisms for a referendum to be held. A petitioning system will be created to enable electors in any constituency area to indicate their support for a referendum to be held on the creation of a new local authority. If 10% or more of the people in that constituency area give their support for a referendum, a vote will be held among the electors within those community and constituency areas.

After the referendum is held, if the majority of those people have signalled that they want a new council to better represent them, the mechanics of setting up a new local authority will be triggered. Of course, as part of the process, it would be necessary to present a strong indication that the new and residual local authorities would be organisationally and financially viable and capable of effectively delivering services to local residents.

Let me outline why this Bill is so important to me and my constituents. A root cause of many of the problems is that my constituents feel that they are being used as a cash cow for Bradford and getting very little back in return. Council tax and business rates are all sent from my constituency to Bradford City Hall, with nowhere near the equivalent amount of funds comes back to be reinvested in our area. The Keighley and Ilkley and Shipley constituencies generate the highest tax revenue to Bradford Council through our council tax and business rates payments. Data released by our council finds that wards such as Ilkley, Wharfedale and Craven pay the highest proportion of what is billed, while other wards within Bradford city itself pay the least and yet get the highest investment. Even though the two constituencies are the largest contributors, we undoubtedly benefit the least; cash is funnelled into Bradford city centre projects by my constituents, who are getting no benefit whatsoever.

Hon. Members should be in no doubt that we have some huge challenges in Keighley, with deprived areas that need attention, and we need more local support from our local authority. I am talking about the local authority simply doing the basic job of providing statutory services well—getting projects off the ground while listening and taking account of local priorities.

I will give some very quick examples. Bradford Council is still yet to deliver the Silsden to Steeton pedestrian bridge, despite money having being allocated for it by this Conservative Government. Bradford Council has delayed and delayed the project and now says it will not be delivered until 2026. The council’s recent decision to ignore a decisive public poll to keep the green space on North Street in Keighley Green and to push ahead with its development plans is contrary to what the people of Keighley want.

Children’s services are in a dire state in Bradford. Across the district there are some exceptional problems that mark my area out from the rest of the country. Children’s services are perhaps the most important service that a local authority can provide, but Bradford Council children’s services have failed vulnerable children for far too long. At the start of this year, we heard a damning Government report on those services, which only went to show what we have all known for a long time: children in our district are not protected by those with the responsibility to do so, leading to some tragic circumstances throughout our area. I am pleased to say that earlier this year the Government stepped in and stripped Bradford Council of its children’s services so that a new trust structure can be set up. Those are just a few examples.

In summary, this Bill would put new measures in place to ensure that local people have a say on who represents them, the very nature of the council and the geographical area in which the services will be delivered. It is only right that, if the majority of people in specific constituencies are in favour of forming a new unitary authority, they should have the opportunity to do so. Not only would that benefit my constituents in Keighley and Ilkley, but it would be very much welcomed by other Members of this place.

Some may say that the Bill is divisive, but that is not the case at all. It is simply standing up for the community that I represent, and putting in place a plan that enables communities to be better represented at a local level, with the sole purpose of delivering on local priorities—something that, unfortunately, under the shackles of Bradford Council, my constituents have not benefited from for far too long. While I may refer to this Bill as the “Bradford breakaway Bill”, my Local Authority Boundaries Bill provides the mechanics for a smaller, more targeted, more nimble, more effective and more efficient local authority, able to deliver on local services and local priorities at speed and with a much better sense of public duty to its residents.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered.

That Robbie Moore, Philip Davies, James Grundy, Mr William Wragg, Damien Moore, Antony Higginbotham, Matt Vickers, Duncan Baker, Chris Clarkson, Dr Kieran Mullan and Sarah Atherton present the Bill.

Robbie Moore accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the first time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March 2023, and to be printed (Bill 213).