John Howell column: ‘Localism Bill will deliver more community power’

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THIS month I had the pleasure of hosting a visit to Parliament of almost 40 Oxfordshire town and parish clerks.

I had arranged a full tour of both Houses of Parliament and afterwards the Prime Minister was kind enough to invite them for coffee.

They all had photos with him and their local MPs on the steps of 10 Downing Street.

I saw much more in this than just the chance for our clerks to find out what Parliament does and to meet the Prime Minister.

Our parishes and towns are key players in two important policy areas at the heart of the Government’s approach – localism and decentralisation; and these are inextricably linked to the notion of the Big Society.

Our clerks already do a magnificent job keeping their tier of local government going but they are now part of a radical move to devolve power away from central Government.

The Localism Bill shows how we will deliver greater power to local communities and strengthen local democracy:

We’ve set out how there will be new rights for local communities such as a new right to challenge to take over services; a new right to bid to buy local assets such as pubs; and a new right to veto excessive council tax rises through a referendum.

There’s also a community Right to Build giving local communities the freedom they need to come together to build new homes and amenities in their towns and villages.

Britain has become increasingly centralised over the years. Central government has had a high degree of control over what can be done locally.

Those parish and town clerks who visited me will see local decision-making become the norm rather than the exception. They seemed up for the challenge.