Sustainable Communities Act (SCA)
What is it?
This act facilitates a ‘bottom up’ approach so that decisions are not made by central government but local government. This is the first time that councils are in the driving seat on what the Government does locally.
If a Local Authority opts into the act (like Darlington Borough Council has), it can introduce powers that will promote sustainable communities. There are four categories:
- Local economies (promoting local shops, businesses and jobs)
- Environment (promoting renewable energy, protecting green spaces)
- Social Inclusion (protecting local public services, alleviating food and fuel poverty)
- Democratic involvement (promoting local people to participate in local decision making)
What are the benefits?
Any local person, local group or organisation can come up with ideas that may change government policy. Government can decide to bring in new flexibilities, freedoms and powers that will enable Councils to respond better to local wants and needs.
In December 2010 the Secretary of State invited Local Authorities to consult their communities about how best to improve their local areas, and then take whatever action was necessary to make these ideas a reality. If councils find that a bureaucratic barrier prevents them from taking action, they can submit a formal ‘proposal’ asking Government to remove the barrier.
There is now an easy route to do this through the new online portal [external link]
The ‘Barrier Busting’ portal is also open to anyone who wishes to ask the government to remove a barrier which is stopping local action.
The Government do not intend to regulate the actions of local authorities who wish to respond to the invitation or regulate the duties of the Local Government Association, who in the past has had to shortlist proposals and be involved in long consultation with Government about their implementation. Councils will no longer be required to take specific steps before submitting a proposal, or to submit proposals to a set deadline. The intention is to provide a more direct service dedicated to removing as many barriers to localism as possible.
There may be times when a Council which has submitted a proposal under the act disagrees with government about why a particular barrier cannot be removed. The Local Government Association will be able to re-submit a proposal with a requirement for the Secretary of State to consult and try to reach agreement with them prior to reaching a final decision.
What is Darlington doing?
Darlington Borough Council submitted four proposals for implementing the SCA:
- modernising the council’s powers in relation to setting allotment size in order to reduce the amount of wasted allotment space, by varying allotment size and meeting the demand for a greater number of smaller plots
- looking at ways of facilitating continued access to benefits for those in low-paid work and/or those who are volunteering
- making Darlington eligible for ‘Working Neighbourhoods’ funding by arguing for the introduction of a sliding scale for eligibility rather than a single cut-off point (which Darlington just misses). This may include changes to eligibility criteria
- persuading food outlets to be more responsible for the litter and waste they produce
What happens now?
The government undertook further consultation about the SCA process during 2011 and again in 2012 and the results of this consultation process can be viewed at the GOV.UK website [external link, pdf document].