Nick Herbert backs Sustainable Communities Bill

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for decisions over vital services and facilities to be made closer to the people who use them.


Speaking in a House of Commons debate on the Sustainable Communities Bill on Friday (19 January), Mr Herbert said that on important local issues such as the future of West Sussex's hospitals, planning and the delivery of neighbourhood policing, people "do not just wish to be heard; they wish to have their say".

The Bill, which is supported by local authorities and parish councils from across West Sussex, seeks to transfer powers from central government to local communities.  It will give local authorities the power to demand from central government a yearly account of the amount of money spent by central government. 

It will also allow local authorities, after detailed consultation with local people, to work out their own alternative local spending plan and to allocate that public spending in their area in a different way.  Communities could take more action to preserve services such as post offices and village shops and the vitality of their high streets.

Mr Herbert said that he had received "a number of representations from local authorities and parish councils in my West Sussex constituency, giving their strong support to the principle that they should have more of a say in decisions that affect them."

The MP outlined how "people have increasingly found that they have no say over the way in which services are delivered in their communities".  He cited the example of the future of local hospitals in West Sussex which was being decided "by a newly constituted, wholly unelected Primary Care Trust" over which the public had little real influence.

Mr Herbert also raised the issue of an Arundel bypass, which, despite a route having been first agreed back in 1993, will not be brought forward until 2016 at the earliest.  He said that the decision was being taken by an unelected Regional Transport Board, arguing that "people are not being properly represented because quangos that are not accountable to local communities have been set up."

Mr Herbert, who is also Shadow Minister for Police Reform, highlighted how "local communities have very little say over what happens to their local police forces and the operation of community safety".  This situation is particularly unjustifiable when local residents now pay more than twice as much towards the cost of policing than they did in 1997.

Concluding his speech, Mr Herbert urged MPs from all parties to back the Bill so that it could help facilitate the "empowerment of citizens and communities" and turn "around the centralism that has characterised politics and the delivery of public services over a decade or more".

The Minister for Local Government said that the Government had technical objections to the Bill.  But an attempt by Labour MPs to "talk the Bill out" - aiming to prevent it from receiving a Second Reading - was thwarted by 175 votes to 17.  However, it is likely that the Government will attempt to block it at a later stage.

Speaking after the debate, Nick Herbert said: "I was so pleased to be able to vote for the Sustainable Communities Bill on Friday and speak in the debate.  It combines two of the most pressing themes in politics today, the need to give people more power and the need to pay more attention to the protection of our environment.  I hope that the Government will re-think its opposition to this measure." 


Alexander Black