Localism Bill: The Big Society comes to Thurrock

Thurrock Councils is to learn today how much funding, that they receive from central government, will be cut over the next two years.

Ministers will also reveal their proposals to give groups in local communities such as Thurrock greater scope to take over control of some services from councils.

They say the Localism Bill will lay the foundations for what David Cameron calls “the big society”.

The bill also proposes a change in the role that councils play in finding accommodation for homeless families.

Instead of being obliged to house families who are eligible, councils would be able to discharge their responsibilities by finding them private rented accommodation for at least 12 months.

Tony Travers, from the London School of Economics, said the cuts would be the worst for local councils since 1945, affecting all services including social services for the elderly and children.

“There’s been nothing like this in modern times,” he told the BBC.

“If you look at, for example, Denis Healey’s efforts in the late ’70s to cut public spending, it had a one or two year impact on public expenditure – including on councils – but nothing like this.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that local authorities would see a reduction in local authorities’ spending – but said money could be saved in other ways.

He said councils could save money and still provide a “decent service”: “We are suggesting that local authorities look towards sharing chief executives, sharing back office services including their procurement.”

He added: “I believe it is possible to cut significant sums out of local authorities by simply improving the way local authorities operate.”

“They’ve simply got to wake up to the fact that it is no longer viable to have their own chief executives, their own legal departments, their own education departments, their own planning departments – they’ve simply got to put this together and they’ve got to look for ways to see these services provided in partnership with local communities.”

Mr Pickles said: “I’m expecting local authorities to be able to provide more for less, I’m expecting them to be able to provide a reasonable level of service and I think local authorities shouldn’t have some kind of alibi in feeling that these have been imposed from the centre and therefore they’ve got to provide every single cut on the front line.”

The minister said the bill would make it easier for local people to take ownership of community buildings such as redundant pubs, redundant shops, redundant post offices and school buildings.

It would also give them the right to bid to run a local service, if they think they could do it better, and it will introduce “neighbourhood planning” – to allow neighbourhoods to “determine the look and the shape of their communities” – so any applications that match the plan would not require require additional planning permission.

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