DCLG adopt our policy proposal to review all local government statutory duties

In March 2010 I blogged on ConservativeHome asking for a Government review of the statutory duties of local authorities. Statutory duties are those actions a public body must do, not those it can choose whether to do. Today the Government has announced that it is going to compile a list of the statutory duties on Local Government. I welcome their adoption of this policy.

Local authority statutory duties are a maze of hundreds of years of Government legislation. A review of statutory duties is well overdue. DCLG are “seeking comments – to help fill in the gaps.” You can contribute to the consultation at burdens@communities.gsi.gov.uk from now until 25 April 2011. The Government explain their purpose as to develop a “more informed view of those areas where these duties may no longer be required.” If you know of a statutory duty which you think is too onerous or is out-dated please inform DCLG now.

The DCLG document Cross-Whitehall review of statutory duties: Q&A explains why we don’t already have a central list of the Statutory Responsibilities of Local Government. It says DCLG “does not have policy responsibility for all the functions local authorities are currently required to deliver.” Policy responsibilities are often transferred between Departments and bodies other than DCLG have placed responsibilities on local authorities. Fifteen Government Departments are feeding information into this Review. Two spreadsheets reveal the results of the DCLG audit of duties for which their Department is responsible and a “composite of other Government Department data.

It is essential to the Governments plans for deficit reduction that councillors are fully aware of their legal responsibilities. Trade Unions have published a guide for their members on challenging public spending cuts under the Equality Duty. Public and legal campaigns based on local authority Statutory Duties have been conducted in Dumfries and Galloway and Ealing.  Everyone has an interest in local authorities acting in compliance with the law so making everyone aware of what the law is should be welcomed by all parties. We should be discussing the merit of local councils policies not whether they are compliant with onerous or potentially outdated Government regulations. Local councils need to be aware of their legal responsibilities when they shape their proposals and this measure should help with that.

My original blog featured seven policy recommendations for Central Government. The Government appears to be implementing two of my recommendations, which were: to “order an immediate audit of all the statutory duties imposed on local authorities” and to “Catalogue and review all local authorities’ statutory duties to assess if each is still relevant and necessary.” We need to pressure them to follow through with the other five recommendations, which were to:

  • Abolish all non-essential statutory duties in a bonfire of the controls imposed on local authorities.
  • Create a new statutory duty on Central Government to list all the duties of local authorities in one place (a website) accessible to the public.
  • Create a new statutory duty on Central Government to provide a full publicly available regulatory impact assessment of the costs of each new statutory duty they propose to require local authorities to implement.
  • Create a new statutory duty on Central Government to provide full funding to local authorities in accordance with the estimated costs of each new statutory duty imposed. There should be no more unfunded legal requirements for local authorities to act.
  • Create a new statutory duty on Central Government (following the completion of the measures stipulated above) to include a compulsory sunset clause on all new statutory duties to ensure they are reviewed at periodic five year intervals.

The Governments adoption of this policy is welcome (I would say that wouldn’t I?). But this should be merely the beginning. Getting rid of burdensome regulations by past administrations is a very important first step. If the Government commits to desist from imposing numerous fresh statutory duties on local authorities and to produce a regularly updated list of such duties, which they will constantly review, they could fundamentally change how local government works.