Frequently Asked Question about Local Works
Frequently Asked Questions about the Act - Answers
What is the Sustainable Communities Act?
The Sustainable Communities Act is a law that came into being in October 2007. It sets up a new process where councils and communities can drive the actions and assistance that central government does and gives to promote sustainability locally.
How did the Act come about?
The Local Works coalition campaigned for 5 years to see the Act become law. This was a 'grass-roots' effort to mobilise citizens to write to their Members of Parliament (MPs) asking them to support the Act in Parliament. This grass roots effort involved many large public meetings (audiences ranging from 150-500 people) and the distribution of campaign leaflets.
In November 2006 the Sustainable Communities Bill was introduced to Parliament as a Private Members Bill. It was sponsored in the House of Commons by Nick Hurd MP (Conservative, Ruislip-Northwood) and in the House of Lords by Lord Marlesford. The Bill became law with full cross party support on 23 October 2007 as the Sustainable Communities Act 2007.
What is meant by 'Sustainable Communities'?
The definition of sustainable communities in the Act is deliberately broad. The Act defines the promotion of sustainable communities as incorporating the following 4 things:
1. Environmental, e.g. promoting local renewable energy, increasing recycling and protecting green spaces
2. Local economies, e.g. promoting local shops, local businesses and local jobs
3. Social inclusion, e.g. protecting local public services and alleviating fuel poverty and food poverty
4. Democratic involvement, e.g. increasing the ways local people can participate in local decision making and promoting new ways in which people can influence what happens locally
Which areas of the UK does the Act apply to?
The Act applies to all Local Authorities, which in the Act includes County Councils, and their respective communities, in England.
The Act does not apply to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland due to their devolved status. Local Works is considering future campaign plans to introduce similar laws in these countries.
How do I take part in the Act's process?
First you must ensure your Local Authorities (and County Council if you have one) chooses to use the Act.
If Local Authorities (and County Councils) choose to use the Act and make proposals to central government they must first engage their communities in order to gain the ideas local people have of what proposals should be made.
They must then "try to reach agreement" with local people on the proposals they will put forward to government. This "reaching agreement" is a new process of governance and is the first time that people have been given the right to drive the agenda of what government does.
What is the time frame for the Act's process?
The Act's process is open ended. Councils are free to submit proposals to central government when they are ready and when they have consulted AND tried to reach agreement with local people on what those proposals will be.
When proposals are submitted central government has committed to a time limit on how long it will take to deal with these proposals, including negotiating with the Selector if the proposal is initially rejected. This time limit is being agreed upon now between government and the Selector and is expected to be 6 months.
What happens after Local Authorities submit their proposals?
The Government is obliged under the Act to provide a response to the proposals and if it rejects a proposal, it must give reasons for doing so. The Selector is then able to challenge government on any rejected proposal and can resubmit the proposal for renewed consideration and negotiation.
Central government then has a duty to 'co-operate and try to reach agreement' with the Selector on these resubmitted proposals. This is NOT consultation. In the words of the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears, when she launched the Act's process on 14th October 2008 this Act is about "turning power upside down in this country", and added that it is about "reaching agreement where you say 'I can do this and I can't do that' and then have a dialogue about the final decision to be taken together." It is this process that makes the process a unique and exciting opportunity for citizens and councils.
Why is this Act different? What makes it not just another consultation exercise?
This Act sets up a process that is not merely consultation. It is governance by dialogue and reaching agreement. Government has a legal duty to co-operate and reach agreement on the proposals made by communities and their councils. Councils also have a duty to reach agreement with communities regarding the ideas they have for help and action from central government. This is radical - we have never before had a law like this that creates a bottom-up way of doing government.
In the words of the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears, when she launched the Act's process on 14th October 2008, this Act is about "turning power upside down in this country", and she added that it is about "reaching agreement where you say 'I can do this and I can't do that' and then have a dialogue about the final decision to be taken together."
How are Town and Parish Councils involved in the Act's process?
Town and Parish Councils can make proposals via the citizens' panels that principal councils (Local Authorities and County Councils) must set up if they wish to use the Act. Government is considering passing new regulations that will give them the right to submit proposals directly to central government. We strongly support this idea.
How are regional assemblies, including the Greater London Assembly (GLA), involved in the Act's process?
Regional assemblies are not part of the Act's process i.e. communities and councils submitting proposals to central government for action and assistance. However proposals that communities and councils make may effect regional assemblies.
The GLA is also not part of the Act's process regarding the submission of proposals to central government for action and assistance. However, as with regional assemblies, proposals that communities and councils make may effect the GLA.
Does the Act allow communities and/or councils to gain new money?
Yes councils can request for money from central government. However this is the first time ever that we have a law and thus a legal mechanism where government can not just say NO to all those requests, remember this is NOT a consultation exercise.
Councils can use the Act to simply ask for more money and this may actually result in a net saving effect with regards to all available public money. Take the following example - a council asks for funds to keep a local public service open and the CO2 emissions saved from people not having to drive further to the nearest public service mean that the government do not have to spend public money elsewhere in the economy to reduce those CO2 emissions.
Councils can also use the Act to ask for a transfer of public money spent locally that is currently under central control. An example is Business Link, a central QUANGO that spends about £500 million a year in Britain. A council could take control of the Business Link money spent in their area and use it to promote local businesses more efficiently (as local people know best how to solve local problems). If there was money left over they could use it to, say, keep more local public services open, or say, fund insulation in older peoples homes to reduce fuel poverty.
Finally councils can use the Act to gain new power to make their own money. For example (this was very popular at many of the public meetings that the Local Works campaign for the Act held across the country) the council could gain the power to charge a non-domestic local rate to the large car parks of out of town superstores. It could then use that revenue to promote local shops and more vibrant inner town areas.
How will councils ensure the public become involved as it can already be difficult to get the public to e.g. stand for election to a parish council?
Yes it is true, people are fed up with politics, as the Power Inquiry of 2006 showed. However that same (substantial) study into Britain's democracy also showed that most people will get involved if they see that democracy is meaningful, i.e. if they can have real influence over decisions which affect their life. This Act provides a mechanism for doing that like never before in law.
Local Works held dozens of public meetings across the country whilst campaigning to see the Act made law. Turnouts were huge, averaging well over 150. MPs that spoke at these meetings were astonished. Local Works is a coalition of over 90 citizen organisations with a total membership base of several million people. These organisations are keen to get there members to use the Act.
There were many excellent examples of people become involved in the first round of the Act, many of whom had never been involved in politics before. Some examples of this can be seen in our Best Practice Guide.
What safeguards will stop unprofitable enterprises being 'propped-up' by public money?
Firstly, an important point regarding economic principles and the concept of 'unprofitable': many business practices currently operating in our society are able to be profitable because they simply do not pay all the costs that are incurred via their business practices and these costs are thus not reflected in the price of the goods and services they sell. Meanwhile, many unprofitable practices remain unprofitable because all the benefits of their operations are not internalised in the final price of their goods or services (see the Post Office and net CO2 example above). Markets that enterprises operate under are not laws of nature, they are created, moulded and governed by the legal laws and rules we choose to make.
This Act provides councils and communities with an excellent opportunity to start to internalise the external costs and benefits involved in many enterprises. E.g.
- Charging a supermarket a fee for supply local schools with apples from Poland when there are orchards a few miles away (this example came up at a public meeting held during the campaign for the Act).
- Subsidising a local credit union because of the increased (measurable) trade it generates in the high street.
- Changing the planning rules so that before a local service (e.g. a police station or community hospital) is closed the net economic and social impacts of local job losses, people having drive further to work and access that service etc are measured.
If an enterprise is supported by public money so that the individual gains benefit/profit irrespective of the enterprises use to the community it is likely to be derisive. That is exactly why the Act puts the community and councils are in the driving seat with regards to the assistance and help they request from central government.
What are the criteria for the proposals communities and Local Authorities make to central government?
For a proposals to be valid it must reach two simple criteria:
- It must promote sustainable communities as defined in the Act (i.e. promotion of local economies, environmental protection, social inclusion and democratic participation; see above for more details of this definition).
- It must be something that central government can do (and is not doing already) to help or assist communities and councils promote sustainable communities.
What sort of proposals could communities and Local Authorities make to central government?
For examples please see our guidance sheets, available here
Can areas join up to put forward collective proposals?
Absolutely. The Act allows for councils and their communities to put forward joint proposals. Local Works strongly encourage that councils join together and put forward joint proposals.
FAQs about Local Works
What is Local Works?
Local Works is a coalition of over 100 national civic and environmental organisations. Local Works campaigns to help people and councils use the Act and to ensure the government implements it properly.
Are you cross party?
We are not supported by or affiliated with any political party. The Sustainable Communities Act has full cross party support.
How are you funded?
We have three sources of funding.
- Some of the national organisations in the coalition give donations
- Grant-making trusts and foundations
- Our individual supporters are also welcome, but not required, to give donations (and many do)
How long have you been around and what is your history?
Local Works was started as a project by the New Economics Foundation in 2002 following their Ghost Town Britain and Ghost Town Britain II reports. It then became the coalition for the Sustainable Communities Bill - with the aim of reversing Ghost Town Britain and creating sustainable communities.
Now that the Sustainable Communities Act is law the Local Works campaigns to help people and councils use the Act and to ensure the government implements it properly.
Why isn't x organisation part of the Local Works coalition?
The Local Works coalition is continually expanding and there are a number of national organisations we are trying to get on board. By all means, if you are a member of an organisation that is not currently an official supporter please write to their head office and tell them you think they should be and to contact us!