Community powers to pass yob law

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Ministers last night pledged to hand more power to the people by giving parish councils the right to pass by-laws to tackle problem behaviour in their communities.


Ministers last night pledged to hand more power to the people by giving parish councils the right to pass by-laws to tackle problem behaviour in their communities.

The move, set out by communities and local government secretary Ruth Kelly, is part of the biggest proposed shake-up in town halls in 30 years.

And the government invited cities such as Norwich to bid for so-called unitary council status to run all services including education and social care - and supporters of Norfolk's current two-tier arrangement of county and districts were told they must "find new governance arrangements which overcome the risks of confusion, duplication and inefficiency."

Parish councils will get powers to set by-laws for the first time in more than 130 years and hand out on the spot fines of up to £80 if they are broken.

That means they could make tailor-made rules to stamp out nuisance behaviour not included in national legislation, including climbing on and hanging off bridges, skateboarding in residential areas, riding on verges, handing out flyers and urinating in public places.

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The proposals are part of a wide-ranging package of measures contained in the local government white paper aimed at bringing councils closer to the people.

Ms Kelly promised the Commons a cut in council red tape by scrapping 1,200 targets and indicators for local councils to 235.

Councils would be given three choices to follow - a directly elected mayor; a directly elected executive of councillors; or a leader elected by their fellow councillors with a four-year mandate.

The powers of local people to "demand answers and action" would be strengthened through a new "community call for action".

"We will give local authorities a stronger role in leading their communities and bringing services together to address local needs and problems," she said.

"Central government will play its part in guaranteeing minimum standards and setting overall national goals but we will step back and allow more freedom and flexibility at the local level.

"In exchange, we expect to see more accountability to local citizens, stronger local leadership, better and more efficient services and a readiness to support tougher intervention when things go wrong."

Steve Morphew, Norwich City Council leader, said the white paper could give new life to both the city and county.

"It's good news for everyone," he said.

"It is a breath of fresh air. One of the main proposals is to give more say to local people and neighbourhoods on services and how they should be provided.

"It could mean the opportunity to create a new council able to focus directly on the needs of the city of Norwich. A new council would include not just the current City Council powers, but could also include powers transferred from Norfolk County Council -like education, children's services and adult social services.

"We intend to see if we can meet the criteria the Government has set, and if we do we will be bidding for a new unitary council for Norwich.

Shaun Murphy, Norfolk County Council leader, said he welcomed the debate but there was little appetite for a unitary Norwich.

"What practical, tangible differences will local people see for their essential public services from any proposed changes and how will they deliver better value for money from their council tax?" he asked.

"If it becomes a debate about who does what, or lines on a map, it will be a sadly missed opportunity for the kind of improvements that many would wish to see.

"Much is being made of a drastic reduction in targets," he added.

"I welcome the cut - but as always, the devil is in the detail - so we will need more time to discover whether what is promised actually materialises."