Liberal Democrats are committed to helping people contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives. This means devolving power to the most local effective.
However, in England government is highly centralised, with central government having far more power relative to lower tiers of government than in almost any comparable democracy. This motion and its accompanying policy paper set out a Liberal Democrat vision of how we can devolve power down to more local levels of democracy, how we can make local democracy more diverse and accountable, and how we can strengthen local community action in the voluntary sector.
It proposes to devolve powers to the lowest practicable level by making it easier for communities in urban areas to set up their own Town, Parish or Community Councils; by strengthening the powers of principal local authorities (Counties, Districts or Unitaries) over key areas such as education, health and care, planning, and housing; and by aiming to achieve a democratically-elected devolved tier across England by the end of the next Parliament. This tier would use existing local authorities as building blocks, and would draw down powers from central government.
To make local government more open, accountable and diverse, the motion calls for elections by Single Transferable Vote, supports the use of all-women, all-disabled and all-BAME shortlists, encourages the use of deliberative consultation methods such as Citizen’s Juries, and seeks to strengthen the role of individual councillors.
The motion also has a number of proposals to strengthen the community and voluntary sector, including more use of grant funding rather than ‘payment by results’ contracts and amending the Social Value Act to increase the emphasis on social value in procurement decisions, which should increase the use of not-for-profit providers.
Federal Policy Committee
Mover: Wera Hobhouse MP (Spokesperson on Communities and Local Government).
Summation: Cllr Tim Pickstone (Chair of the Policy Working Group).
Conference notes that in the preamble to the constitution we commit to enabling all citizens to "contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives".
Conference believes that:
- Community is the arena in which individuals are able to co-operate with others to achieve their personal and shared goals.
- Democratically elected local government is the key public institution which enables local communities to work effectively together.
- Voluntary community action is also essential to creating a vibrant civic culture, both to express local communities based on place and non-geographic communities of interest.
Conference regrets, however, that in England government is highly centralised, with central government having far more power relative to lower tiers of government than in almost any comparable democracy, and its attempts to micromanage local decisions and delivery of local services frequently lead to ineffectiveness, waste and a feeling of alienation and disempowerment.
Conference further regrets the inadequate progress towards a devolved tier of democratic government within England, with serious consequences for the uneven economic and social development of the regions of England.
Conference resolves that a Liberal Democrat vision for the empowerment of people and communities in England should be based on the principles of:
- Decisions being made at the lowest practicable level.
- Representative elections.
- Financial empowerment of democratically elected authorities.
Conference therefore welcomes Policy Paper 130, Power for People and Communities, as a statement of Liberal Democrat policy, and in particular welcomes its proposals to:
- Devolve power to the lowest practicable level by:
- Removing barriers to the creation of additional Parish and Town Councils, as well as of neighbourhood forums in areas that so choose.
- Strengthening the powers of principal local authorities over key areas such as education, health and care, transport, planning, housing and the environment.
- Abolishing the role of Police and Crime Commissioners.
- Aiming for the creation of a democratically elected devolved tier across England to be achieved by the end of the next Parliament, using existing local authority areas as the building blocks.
- Ultimately locking in the new settlement for England as part of a Written Constitution for the UK as a whole.
- Make local government fit for the future by:
- Introducing elections by the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member constituencies for all levels of local government.
- Increasing the openness of decision making, including by requiring webcasting of all council meetings and strengthening transparency rules on council-owned companies and planning decisions on council owned land.
- Increasing the inclusivity of councils by supporting the use of all-women and all-disabled shortlists as a way of correcting underrepresentation as already provided for by law, and legislating to allow for all-BAME shortlists.
- Encouraging the use of deliberative consultation methods such as Citizen's Juries.
- Strengthening the role of individual councillors, for example by giving them a formal right to hold service providers to account in their own ward.
- Empowering Councils over their own finances, including by ending the current capping regime, giving them enhanced powers to call on new income sources appropriate to their area which should be linked to local activities and support local services and investment, and by giving them enhanced borrowing powers, including the power to borrow to enable and deliver housing and required local infrastructure.
- Reforming the Combined Authorities so that they are more representative of their communities, by ensuring that they do not simply consist of council mayors and leaders alongside the elected mayor, but instead have a membership where each party in the relevant area is represented in proportion to its number of representatives on the relevant councils.
- Strengthen the community and voluntary sector by:
- Updating and renewing the Compact between Government and the Voluntary Sector.
- Implementing the recommendations of Lord Hodgson's review of the Lobbying Act (only applying regulations to campaigns intended to influence votes for candidates).
- Seeking a better balance between 'payment by results' contracts and grant funding, to allow some costs of voluntary organisations to be supported.
- Amending the Social Value Act so that service commissioners have to 'take into account' rather than just 'have regard to' social value in procurement decisions.
Applicability: England only.