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Accountability of Locally Elected Representatives

Volume 710: debated on Monday 7 March 2022

14. What steps he is taking with local authorities to help ensure the accountability of locally elected representatives. (905908)

The Localism Act 2011 sets out a robust framework for local authority standards and accountability. All local authorities must adopt a code of conduct, with sanctions when members do not adhere. I recently met the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life to reaffirm that the Government will respond shortly to his committee’s report on this issue, when we will set out further steps to improve the system.

Does my hon. Friend agree that as the Government strengthen locally elected institutions, bodies and individuals as part of the levelling-up agenda, it becomes all the more important that they are properly held to account by local media—newspapers, radio and television? Will she look at what more can be done to sustain local media, which is under terrific pressure?

My right hon. Friend is right. Local news providers remain uniquely placed to undertake the investigative journalism and scrutiny of public institutions that is vital to ensuring a healthy democracy at local level. This is primarily a matter for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but I am happy to meet my right hon. Friend to find out more about it.

Am I living in a parallel universe? [Hon. Members: “Yes!”] Listening to some Government Members talk about their experience of their local authorities and their local situation, I feel I must be in a different world. The fact of the matter is that the morale of local authorities and local councillors is at rock bottom, because during these years and years of Conservative Government there have been so few resources for local authorities to actually do their job. They want to do their job—they would love to level up—but just like the northern powerhouse, this all looks like pie in the sky to my constituents.

Accountability in local government includes participation from the widest corners of our society. As the Disability Policy Centre highlighted in its recent report, “Breaking Down Barriers”, accessibility of local authority buildings is still a major issue for disabled people. Only two in five of local authority homepages on the web are accessible. What work will the Government do to ensure we can open up local democracy to more people with disabilities?

My right hon. and learned Friend raises a very important issue. Officials are consistently looking at ways to ensure we comply with the Equality Act 2010. If there is a specific example he would like to give me, I would appreciate it if he wrote to me, and then I can provide him with a more comprehensive response.