Our councillors have responded to the Queen’s Speech, which lays out the Government’s plans for legislation in the next year.
Myself and the portfolio holder for resources Cllr Graham Turner have given their thoughts on some of the main bills that will impact on local authorities:
The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill
The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill will give more powers over housing, transport, planning and policing to local authorities. However, the additional powers will only be available to areas with elected mayors.
I have said that as a local authority It is our responsibility to make sure that the poorest and most vulnerable people in our communities are looked after, yet despite having a better understanding of our region than the civil service sat in London do, they still hold most of the power, in order for our communities to thrive and our regional economy to survive we have to get powers away from London.
Obviously the concept of “elected mayors” present a problem to us in West Yorkshire as all authorities have had referendums rejecting the concept. I do realise that the suggestion of an Elected Mayor for West Yorkshire is a different proposition, but wonder if there is an appetite for another level of elections among the public.
The extra powers we seek – devolving decisions currently made in London to the region, does require an audit of the governance arrangements, but the Chancellor’s belief in the one model (Elected Mayors) is in my view too narrow.
I am not against considering all the models on offer, we certainly want to take the decisions that enable our region to grow, and we now ask ourselves, should we settle for lesser treatment than is offered to Scotland – because as we all know Yorkshire is just as important to the UK. If not more.
The Trade Union Bill
The Trade Union Bill means that 50% of union members will need to vote for a ballot to be valid, and 40% of those entitled to vote will need to say yes to a strike if it effects essential public services including health, education, fire, and transport. The bill also aims to tackle intimidation of non-striking workers during a strike and will introduce an opt-in process for the political fund element of trade unions subscriptions.
Cllr Graham Turner cabinet member for resources said: “At a time when the government is forcing local authorities to make significant cuts to our spending, unions play an important role in the process and are integral to ensuring that our employees are kept informed of changes that may affect them.
“With such a large workforce spread out over such a large area the only way we can negotiate the tremendous changes we are having to make, due to central government cuts, is through the unions.
“We have already started making changes and unions have been instrumental in helping us move towards a new council, where those in the greatest need are supported and communities are helped to do more for themselves, It is my hope that despite the proposed changes this will continue to be the case as their help has been invaluable so far.”
The Housing Bill
The Government also plans to extend the right-to-buy scheme to 1.3 million social housing tenants in England as a feature of its new Housing Bill. Under the plans, housing association tenants will be able to buy the homes they rent at a discount.
Cllr Graham Turner added: “I am very disappointed, but not surprised that the new Government has continued its war on the working poor and the most vulnerable in our society by extending the right to buy scheme.’
“At a time when social housing is in very short supply, a fact I may add that everyone recognises, they are going to force us to sell off homes at a huge discount, which we can’t replace. This will have an impact on our housing budget, and more importantly push more people in to the private rented sector, which is generally more expensive and less well regulated.’
“Instead of a right to buy they should be helping us build decent homes that we can add to our housing stock and charge a fair rent for.”