Communities to get greater powers

PUBLISHED: 10:32 11 January 2008 | UPDATED: 08:46 10 June 2010

FROM next year, Exmouth residents will be able to influence issues that affect their quality of life, following proposals from the Government.

FROM next year, Exmouth residents will be able to influence issues that affect their quality of life, following proposals from the Government.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has rubber stamped legislation, which would require by law East Devon District Council and Devon County Council to respond to petitions submitted by residents on any issue for which they have responsibility.

Currently, there is no legal requirement for councils to respond to petitions, no matter how many people sign up.

But, under these proposals, councils would have to respond to any petition gaining 'significant' local support on issues as diverse as anti-social behaviour, helping older people, improving green spaces, dealing with abandoned vehicles and youth services.

And, if the council ignores the petition or the response is unsatisfactory, people can then ask the ward or division councillor to trigger a 'select committee' style hearing to ensure it is debated under the new 'councillor call for action' rules which Parliament recently passed.

Ms Blears said that petitions had legal teeth in Germany, the United States, Canada, Sweden, Italy and New Zealand - and a recent survey found only two countries in Europe were found to sign petitions more than Britain.

She added the plans could come into force from as early as this year. "These new powers would mean the concerns of local people can no longer be filed away and ignored," she said.

"New petition powers would put more influence, power and control in the hands of communities, leading to greater action to tackle their concerns and improving the health of our local democracy.

"Giving local people a greater say is not a threat to local government's legitimacy - good councils actually do this already.

"Listening to the concerns and priorities of the people who use local services can only strengthen our local democracy.

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