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Petitions Duty

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 30 March 2010

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (John Denham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing the implementation of the duty for local authorities to respond to petitions, giving real power to local people to raise the issues they care about with their council and ensuring they receive a meaningful response.

The petitions duty is provided for by chapter 2 of Part 1 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. The core elements of the duty, ensuring that local authorities must set out in a petition scheme how they will respond to petitions from people who live, work or study in their area, will come into force on 15 June this year. The requirements relating to electronic petitions will come into force on 15 December, reflecting the additional time needed for local authorities to procure, install and test software and to train staff.

To support effective delivery by local authorities, I am today publishing statutory guidance and a model petitions scheme, alongside the Government’s response to consultation on draft versions of those documents. A total of 123 responses were received, and a number of changes have been made to the guidance and model scheme to reflect the helpful points that were raised.

The guidance draws attention to a number of areas where the Government expects local authorities to use the strong powers and influence they already have to respond to the issues raised in petitions. Examples include:

on anti-social behaviour—asking the courts to grant an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO); applying to the courts for a premises closure order to close properties where there is persistent nuisance or disorder; making a gating order to restrict access to any public highway to prevent crime or ASB; providing intensive, non-negotiable behavioural support through family intervention projects to perpetrators of anti-social behaviour and their families;

on alcohol related crime and disorder—placing restrictions on public drinking in the area by establishing a designated public place order or, as a last resort, imposing an alcohol disorder zone. When an alcohol disorder zone is established, the licensed premises in the area where alcohol-related trouble is being caused are required to contribute to the costs of extra policing in that area;

on under-performing schools—issuing a warning notice outlining expectations and a timeframe for improvement; for schools that have failed to comply with a warning notice or are in an Ofsted category of notice to improve (requiring significant improvement) or special measures, authorities can also appoint additional governors, establish an interim executive board, remove the school’s delegated budgets, require the school to enter into a formal contract or partnership or (only if the school is in special measures) require its closure; and

on under-performing hospitals—asking the council’s scrutiny committee to investigate concerns on issues like poor hygiene. The committee has powers to review services, request information from NHS bodies, and make urgent recommendations; and work with local involvement networks, which have powers to carry out spot checks and seek information and responses from health service providers.

In order to avoid confusion and duplication with existing statutory arrangements for citizens to express their views, the Local Authorities (Petitions)(England) Order 2010 excludes petitions on planning decisions and on licensing decisions on alcohol, gambling or sex establishments from the scope of the petitions duty. However, any broader issues around the delivery of services in these areas remain within scope (for example, the effectiveness of an authority’s process for dealing with planning applications). It also excludes issues relating to the dealings of individuals or entities, where there is already a statutory right to a review or appeal (other than the right to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman). The order stipulates the maximum threshold which local authorities can set for a petition to trigger a full council debate at 5 per cent of the local population.