Funding news

Voluntary sector groups urged to focus their campaigns on local councils - 23 February 2010

The Labour MP, John Denham, appeals to charities and campaigning organisations to make councils the new focus for local lobbying.

Under a Private Members Bill, backed by the Government, councils will have strengthened powers to scrutinise all significant local public service spending in their area. They will be able to legally compel organisations to attend council scrutiny hearings in order to investigate issues, get answers and make recommendations around how public money is spent.

These changes have the potential to change the way that third sector groups campaign and lobby for change on how local public services are run, whether delivered by the NHS, the police, private contractors or the council itself.

Rather than just concentrating efforts and resources to target central government, campaigners will be able to encourage councillors to act on their behalf by using their powers of scrutiny on issues like:

• residents associations angry at poorly planned and co-ordinated maintenance programmes by utility companies which leave roads and streets in a mess;

• campaigning groups who work on behalf of the elderly worried that bus provision in rural areas is leaving some people isolated and cut off;

• groups who support disabled people in finding work who want to challenge whether Job Centre Plus's local strategy is meeting their needs;

• women's organisations concerned about safety in poorly lit and badly maintained train stations;

• parents' charities frustrated about the costs of getting children to school.

John Denham said:

"Many organisations campaigning for improved local services rightly target MPs and Ministers, and this should continue. But few make effective use of the right of local council scrutiny committees to hold local services to account. Very often the key decisions on support for carers, school improvement, or the effectiveness of anti-social behaviour policies are taken at a local level.

"The Government is making sure that local councillors have the right to question how these decisions are made, and to require decision makers to justify their actions. We want local councils which can not only deliver their own services, but also shape and scrutinise all local public service spending.

"But these powers will only come into their own if local people, and national campaigning organisations put pressure on councils to use their scrutiny powers effectively."

For the press release click here.