We need people to write to their councillors today to put pressure on them to opt-in to the act. Over on the Unlock Democracy website you will find all the information you need, including information about the Act itself, reasons why councils should "opt-in" and a sample letter (although we encourage you to write to them in your own words as it will be more effective). It should only take you a few minutes to write to them and if enough people do it, they will make a huge different.
The Sustainable Communities Act came about because of a five year campaign built by ordinary people. As it happens, it could not have come at a more crucial time. If you want a say in how your local community should adapt to the changing economic circumstances caused by the global financial meltdown, make sure you write to your councillors today.
Historic coalition launches call for councils to seize opportunity to demand new powers
Credit crunch makes "opting in" to Sustainable Communities Act crucial, says Unlock Democracy
Today (14 October), Hazel Blears will invite councils to ‘opt in’ to the Sustainable Communities Act. 57 of the UK's leading voluntary and representative organisations, from the Association of Chief Police Officers to the Campaign for Real Ale, have written to the leaders and chief executives of every council in England today, asking them to seize this opportunity. Their letter will be unveiled today by Unlock Democracy Campaigns Director at a special conference about the Act being held by the Local Government Association in Westminster.
The Act enables councils and their communities working co-operatively to get government help to assist them in reversing the decline of local services, dealing with fuel poverty, protecting the environment and obtaining greater involvement in civic activity. As part of the process they will also be able to formally request specific powers, currently held by national government, to be devolved to them. Government then has a legal duty to reach agreement with councils and the Local Government Association on how it will help them.
Welcoming Hazel Blears' invitation to councils, Unlock Democracy's Campaigns Director Ron Bailey said:
"The Sustainable Communities Act could not have come at a more crucial time. The global economic downturn will have a huge impact on our local communities. The government's own advisers predict that recession will lead to a rise in criminal activity. Local high streets are likely to be decimated as stores are forced to close.
"If local communities are to weather this storm, they will need far more autonomy than they currently have. Local people are the experts on the problems of their areas and the solutions to them. Yet currently they are at the complete mercy of the global stock exchange. The Sustainable Communities Act will give real power to local people to protect and revive their areas."
Director of Unlock Democracy Peter Facey added:
"The Sustainable Communities Act is a unique piece of legislation. It became law as a result of an unprecedented bottom up campaign and creates an unprecedented bottom up way of redressing the creeping centralisation of successive governments. People have never felt more alienated from those who make decisions that affect their daily lives. Councils must opt into the Act to begin the fight back."
Originally a Private Members Bill introduced by Nick Hurd MP, the Sustainable Communities Act became law last November with full support from the Government and the Conservative and Liberal Democrat front benches. Then local government minister Phil Woolas described it as one of the most significant Private Members Bills of the past 40 years and said it could change the face of British politics.
The full text of the letter sent to local authority leaders and chief executives, including the list of signatories, can be found at the end of this news release.
Unlock Democracy (incorporating Charter 88) is the UK's leading campaign for democracy, rights and freedoms. Local Works, the campaign which coordinated support for the Sustainable Communities Bill, is now a part of Unlock Democracy. http://www.unlockdemocracy.org.uk/?page_id=537.
More details about the LGA Conference Selecting sustainability: the launch of the Sustainable Communities Act can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/4eqv9h
PHIL WOOLAS QUOTE
Summing up in the debate during the third reading of the Sustainable Communities Act on 15 June 2007, Local Government Minister Phil Woolas said:
"In the past 40 years, three Members have passed private Members' Bills of significant substance through this House. The first was Sidney Silverman, whose Bill led to the abolition of capital punishment in this country, and the second was the right hon. David Steel, whose Bill led to this country's abortion laws. Many other Members have got private Members' Bills through—indeed, I got one through in 1997. It took me about 10 minutes because it was a handout Bill and nobody noticed it. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood has had to spend months getting his Bill through.
"I genuinely believe that the Bill will change the relationships in British politics. I do not think that it will achieve everything that the promoter and sponsors claim for it, but it will change the relationships. Although it will not grab the headlines as much as Sidney Silverman's Bill or David Steel's, it will contribute enormously to British politics, and I am proud to be the Minister who helped it through Parliament."
TEXT OF LETTER TO LOCAL AUTHORITY LEADERS AND CHIEF EXECUTIVES
As organisations that supported the campaign for the Sustainable Communities Act we write to ask you to please ‘opt in’ to the new process in the Act when invited to by central government this October.
The Act deals with a major problem – the ongoing decline of local shops, services, jobs, economic activity and communities. Important as this is, there is no concerted action by central government to assist councils in stopping Ghost Town Britain (as it has been called) and promote the opposite – communities and high streets that are vibrant and sustainable. The Sustainable Communities Act fills this vacuum – and even more importantly, in such a way that allows councils themselves to drive the ways in which government can help to reverse the decline, because the Act gives government a duty to assist councils (i.e. not the usual top down imposition of yet more duties on you!).
The Act enables you to put forward proposals to government on how it can help you promote ‘local sustainability’.*
All councils’ ideas will then be collated and prioritised by the Local Government Association (i.e. by your representative body, not by ‘Whitehall’).
The government is then under a duty to ‘reach agreement’ with the Local Government Association on the implementation of your suggestions. This is not just another consultation exercise: it is the very first attempt at ‘bottom-up’ government.
Additionally, the Act requires the government, for the first time, to publish a local breakdown of all public spending. You will then have the power to request and argue for centrally controlled public spending, and its related function, to be transferred to local control.
So, as we are sure you will agree, this Act presents new and exciting opportunities for you. Enclosed is a briefing giving more detail on how the Act works, the benefits and further reasons why you should choose to use it and also a draft motion for you to put before the council.
We, and our members who live in your communities, are very keen to be part of the new process in the Sustainable Communities Act. This is an opportunity to engage citizens in governance. We hope you choose to use it.
James Lowman, Chief Executive, ACS – Association of Convenience Stores
Mike Benner, Chief Executive, CAMRA – the Campaign for Real Ale
Michael Lake, Director General, Help the Aged
Mike Jeram, National Secretary, UNISON
Mark Serwotka, General Secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union
Naresh Purohit, National President, National Federation of Retail Newsagents
George Thomson, General Secretary, National Federation of SubPostmasters
Fay Mansell, Chair, National Federation of Women’s Institutes
Gordon Lishman, Director General, Age Concern
Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive, NCVO – National Council of Voluntary Organisations
Billy Hayes, General Secretary, Communication Workers Union
Peter Marks, Chief Executive, Co-operative Group
Andy Atkins, Executive Director, Friends of the Earth
John Sauven, Executive Director, Greenpeace
John Wright, Chairman, FSB – Federation of Small Businesses
Andy Sawford, Chief Executive, Local Government Information Unit
Peter Facey, Director, Unlock Democracy
Ken Jones, President, Association of Chief Police Officers
Paul McKeever, Chairman, Police Federation of England and Wales
Ian Johnston, President, Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales
John Findlay, Chief Executive, National Association of Local Councils
Lesley-Anne Alexander, Chief Executive, Royal National Institute for the Blind
Adam Sampson, Chief Executive, Shelter
Michael Gelling, Chair, TAROE – Tenants and Residents Organisations of England
James Cathcart, Chief Executive, British Youth Council
Andrew Warren, Director, ACE – Association for the Conservation of Energy
Judy Lin-Wong, Director, Black Environment Network
David Harker, Chief Executive, Citizens Advice
Henry Aubrey-Fletcher, President, Country Land and Business Association
Simon Hart, Chief Executive, Countryside Alliance
Jheni Williams, Executive Director, Federation of Black Housing Organisations
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Secretary General, Muslim Council of Great Britain
Andrew Pakes, Co-Chair, SERA – Socialist Environment and Resources Association
Nick Wood-Dow, Chair, Tory Green Initiative
Adam Carew, Chair, Green Lib Dems
Richard Mallender, Chair, Green Party
Frank Cooper, President, National Pensioners’ Convention
Sam Clarke, Network for Social Change
Patrick Holden, Director, Soil Association
Sue Holden, Chief Executive, Woodland Trust
Myles Bremner, Chief Executive, Garden Organic
Sylvia Brown, Chief Executive, ACRE – Action with Communities in Rural England
Ben Hughes, Chief Executive, British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres
Stephen Joseph, Executive Director, Campaign for Better Transport
Paul Bodenham, Chair, Christian Ecology Link
David Tyler, Chief Executive, Community Matters – National Federation of Community Organisations
Dave Sowden, Chief Executive, Micropower Council
Stewart Wallis, Executive Director, New Economics Foundation
Tanya Kenny, Co-ordinator, Food Justice
Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive, Living Streets
Kenneth Parsons, Chief Executive, Rural Shops Alliance
Julian Grocock, Chief Executive, SIBA – The Society of Independent Brewers
Ron Bailey, Partnership Organiser, Sustainable Energy Partnership
Phil Morgan, Chief Executive, TPAS – Tenant Participation Advisory Service
Eileen Devaney, National Co-ordinator, UK Coalition Against Poverty
Jenny Saunders, Chief Executive, National Energy Action
Jessica Mitchell, Director, Food Commission
Pat Thomas, Editor, The Ecologist
* Defined in the Act as ‘the improvement of the economic, social or environmental well-being of the authority’s area’ whereby ‘“social well-being” includes participation in civic and political activity’.