News & Views
Localism bill opportunities for charities
The decentralisation and localism bill currently going through parliament include measures to strengthen local democracy.
- Devolution of power to councils. Councils will be given new freedoms and flexibilities to act in the best interests of their areas. These include setting and publishing chief executive pay.
- New rights for local people and communities. Local people will have a bigger say over their area through a new right to challenge to take over services, a new right to bid to buy local assets such as libraries, pubs and shops and a right to veto excessive council tax rises through a referendum.
- Planning reform. The bill aims to restore democratic and local control over planning by replacing the Infrastructure Planning Commission with a new democratically accountable one. Neighbourhood plans will be the ‘building blocks’ of the new planning system where communities have the power to grant planning permission if a local majority is in favour.
- Housing to be made ‘fairer and more democratic’. Local councils and communities will have new power to build homes and amenities in their towns and villages. Councils will be in charge of allocation and tenure of social housing, allowing them to use their housing stock to the best effect and reduce waiting lists. Tenants will be able to hold their landlords to accounts and although the Tenant Services Authority will be abolished, its regulatory function will be preserved.
- Incentives for economic growth include local authority power to grant discretionary business rate discounts, to enable small businesses and social enterprises to take advantage of tax breaks.
Bryn Morgan, a solicitor at Hempsons, told Caritas: “the ‘right to buy’ land of community value will be of particular interest to charities. The current proposals contained in the localism bill are that:
- Local authorities will maintain a list of properties that are of community value. Community groups will be able to nominate properties for the list.
- Any intended sale of a listed property will be publicised by the local authority.
- A moratorium period will then follow during which interested community groups will have an opportunity to develop a bid for the property. The owner will not be allowed to sell until the moratorium is over.
The proposed system would allow charities time to develop bids for properties on the list and would present a significant hurdle for would-be-developers.
How much of a hurdle will depend on the length of the moratorium period which has still to be decided – rumours are that it could be as long as six months.
On the other hand properties held by charities are likely to be prime candidates for inclusion on the list. The sale of such properties, which is already restricted by the Charities Act, is likely therefore to become an even more cumbersome process.
Full details of the localism bill can be found at: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/decentralisationguide
Clarissa Dann was the editor of Caritas as well as an HR and management online service,he People Bulletin until July 2011.
She is now the editor of the specialist trade finance magazine, Trade and Forfaiting Review which can be viewed at www.tfreview.com but does write on charity finance and investment from time to time.
Clarissa has a background in legal and professional publishing, as well as business journalism and holds an MBA from
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