Barbara's letter in the Guardian, 13 May 2011
Local government ministers need to be clearer on their policy on councils' duties than Bob Neill MP (Letters, 10 May). Guardian journalists and readers have rightly been alarmed in recent weeks by the cross-Whitehall review of councils' statutory duties. The Department of Communities and Local Government website says councils are being asked for "the bureaucratic burdens they wish to throw away". Yet the list of duties in the review includes vital services on which vulnerable people depend, many of which should not be depicted as "burdens". The only frontline services that the website states will be protected are libraries and child protection.
Ministers need to be clearer about other vital areas where legislation has created important protections and services that councils provide. What about the right of carers to have their needs assessed by their local council? What about the protection of public health under the Public Health Act of 1936? What about the rights of older people and those with disabilities to free travel under the Transport Act 2000?
Ministers have allowed all the duties on councils to be listed and voted on as "burdens", "red tape" or "bureaucratic barriers". This is a sloppy way of revising legislation. The government is making swingeing cuts to local council budgets. This review has emerged as just another way in which vulnerable people end up worried about the future of services on which they rely. Allotments look to be safe. I will be pressing ministers in the Commons debate on the localism bill next week to be clear about which other vital council services can be protected.
Barbara Keeley MP
Shadow minister for communities and local government