It has been a busy few weeks on the Government scene with important implications for the civic movement. This News Alert provides an update on the key issues and lets you know what Civic Voice has been doing to influence events and where we have been invited to participate.
Once the new Coalition Government had formed three things have dominated the headlines - ministerial appointments, new policy and legislation and reducing the deficit.
There have been no major changes to the structure of Government Departments but some important changes in emphasis. Heritage responsibilities have been merged with tourism in DCMS and fall to John Penrose MP rather than Ed Vaizey MP who undertook the role in opposition.
The Office for the Third Sector has also been renamed as the Office for Civil Society, and is led in the Cabinet Office by Nick Hurd MP. This reflects the Coalition Government's emphasis on the "big society" and it is reflected elsewhere in the way land use planning is being dealt with. While remaining in Communities and Local Government, planning falls under the responsibility of the Minister for Decentralisation, Greg Clark MP, a sure sign that it is to become a flagship policy for the new politics of localism. He will be supported by Bob Neill MP. As the most numerous participant in the planning system and as the voice of so many local communities across the country there are significant opportunities for civic societies in this approach.
The Big Society
The first major announcement from the new Government has been a focus on the role of civil society and, in the Prime Minister's words, "the start of a deep and serious reform agenda to take power away from politicians and give it to people". It is revealing that the first commitment in the first major policy announcement by the new Government is to reform the land use planning system - "We will radically reform the planning system to give neighbourhoods far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live".
TProgramme for Government
The Coalition's detailed programme for Government contains important commitments and opportunities for the civic movement. Headlines include:
- Abolishing Regional Spatial Strategies and the accompanying housing allocations
- Longer term radical reform of the planning system to give neighbourhoods more control
- New powers to curb "garden grabbing"
- Abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission
- A new designation - similar to SSSIs - to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities
- Introduction of a presumption in favour of sustainable development
- A single consolidated national planning framework, replacing the existing Planning Policy Statements
- Replacing Regional Development Agencies with Local Enterprise Partnerships and their likely abolition in much of the country
- Establishing a high speed rail network
- New freedoms to local councils through a general power of "competence"
- A commitment to take competition between small and large retailers into account when drawing up local plans
- New powers to local communities to save local facilities threatened with closure (e.g. post offices, pubs)
- Refocusing the National Lottery on sports, arts and heritage and reducing other costs
- No new runways at Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick
- Launch of a national tree planting campaign
- Requiring all councils to public meeting minutes
- Granting residents the power to instigate local referendums on any issue
- A national day to celebrate and encourage social actionp>
These commitments have been carried forward into the Queen's Speech outlining the legislative programme to the end of 2011. The headline is a Decentralisation and Localism Bill that will abolish regional spatial strategies and the Infrastructure Planning Commission and replace RDAs with Local Economic Partnerships (where wanted).
We can expect more far reaching planning reforms and the possibility of heritage legislation next year.
Reducing the deficit
The Treasury announced over £ 6bn of in-year cuts on 24 May. Nearly 20% of this is to come from local government and there are immediate 3% reductions in the budgets for organisations like English Heritage and CABE. These are a sign of further substantial reductions to come. The overall effect will be to encourage more attention to be given to alternative sources of funding, such as the Lottery and measures to increase philanthropy, and to the role of volunteers and local communities in helping deliver more locally.
The risk to public sector funding is likely to get significantly worse and it re-enforces the need to establish Civic Voice on an independent footing, funded by the civic movement, for the civic movement and not dependent on the vagaries of other organisations financial choices.
Civic Voice is now established in the Government's eye as an organisation to do business with. We were personally invited to meet with new Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman MP, and to attend Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP's first speech. Tony Burton has also shared a platform with Culture Minister Ed Vaizey MP and has met with Laura Sandys MP, daughter of Civic Trust founder Lord Duncan Sandys and newly elected MP for South Thanet. We are also in conversation with CLG and the Office for Civil Society, with the new advisor on the Big Society Lord Wei and the Conservative Environment Network. We know some civic societies have already lined up meetings with local MPs. We would encourage akk civic societies to write to their MOP and do tsdhe same.
Tony Burton successfully challenged Jeremy Hunt to confirm that his positive commitments to arts and culture (see link to speech below) also applied to the heritage. We are keen to hear what you think the priorities are for Civic Voice in lobbying the new Coalition Government - tell us at here
The Coalition Government's Ministerial team here
The Big Society programme here
The Coalition Government's programme here
The deficit reduction plan here
Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MPs speech here