This post looks back at some of the key developments in local government law in 2013 and highlights the impact these developments (and others that are expected) are likely to have in 2014.
If you are particularly interested in any expected development in this area expected in 2014 (whether set out below or not) please do not hesitate to get in touch with our editorial team by leaving a comment below or by submitting a query through the Ask system.
Changes to the standards regime introduced by the Localism Act 2011
The changes introduced by the Localism Act 2011 to the regulation of standards of conduct for elected and co-opted local authority members in England are likely to continue to be controversial given that the only sanctions for poor behaviour (apart from using a political party’s internal discipline procedures) are censure or criminal prosecution. The Committee on Standards in Public Life has announced that it intends to continue monitoring the implementation and effectiveness of the new regime, particularly in relation to public confidence that any wrongdoing by a member is tackled promptly and transparently.
Also likely to be of interest in 2014 is the fact that, on 5 September 2013, the Administrative Court granted a local authority member permission to bring judicial review proceedings challenging the compatibility of the local government standards regime with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The member, who was found by the local standards committee to have breached the local authority’s code of conduct by disclosing confidential information, argued that the committee’s decision breached his Article 6 rights since the committee was not politically neutral and was not an independent or impartial tribunal. If the case does proceed to a substantive hearing, the Administrative Court will be looking at the structure of the new standards regime in the context of the ECHR.
Draft Local Audit Bill 2013-14
2014 is likely to see the demise of the Audit Commission. The draft Local Audit Bill 2013-14, which was published on 6 July 2013, completed its committee stage on 21 November 2013 and had its report stage and third reading on 17 December 2013.
Care Bill 2013-14
The Care Bill 2013-14, which provides for the reform of the adult social care system in England and Wales into a single statute, will refocus the law around the person not the service and will enshrine the rights of carers to support from local authorities. The Bill completed its House of Lords stages on 29 October 2013 and was presented to the House of Commons on 30 October 2013, following which an updated library standard note on the amendments made to the Bill during its readings in the House of Lords was published by the House of Commons. The Bill had its second reading debate in the House of Commons on 16 December 2013 and is likely to receive Royal Assent in 2014.
Discharge of local authority care functions by third party providers
With the coming into force of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 (Commencement Order No 5) (England) Order 2013 (SI 2013/2606) on 12 November 2013, 2014 is likely to see outsourcing firms bidding for contracts to manage foster care and providing other services for children in care and more local authorities entering into arrangements for their foster care and social work services to be managed in this way. On the same day that the Order was made, the Providers of Social Work Services (England) Regulations 2013 (SI 2013/2668) were also made. These regulations govern the regulation and registration of those providers who enter into such arrangements with local authorities.
Reform of the existing anti-social behaviour regime
On 9 May 2013, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2013-14 was introduced to Parliament. When it is in force, the Bill (which is at the committee stage in the House of Lords) will overhaul the existing anti-social behaviour regime and replace anti-social behaviour orders and injunctions. Part 4 of the Bill, which deals with environmental anti-social behaviour, will enable local authorities to issue community protection notices (CPNs). These are specifically intended to target on-going anti-social behaviour by the responsible business or person and will replace existing measures such as litter clearing notices, defacement removal notices and street litter control notices. In order to ensure that local authorities (and other organisations) understand how to apply the new powers when they come into force, draft guidance was published by the Home Office on 9 October 2013.
Review of the Local Government Ombudsman service
On 29 November 2013, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) published an independent review of the LGO’s governance arrangements, together with the government’s response to the review. Having accepted the report’s recommendations, the government plans to modernise the LGO’s governance arrangements by moving to a single LGO for England. Therefore, in 2014, the government is likely to publish proposals exploring how a unified public service ombudsman created from the LGO and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman could function.
Street Works Permit Schemes
On 23 January 2013, the government announced that, from 2015, local authorities will be able to introduce their own street works permit schemes, without the need for approval from the Department for Transport. This means that it will be easier for local authorities to introduce permit schemes to control where and when utility companies dig up roads. Given that the changes are to be implemented through primary legislation, it is likely that draft legislation will be introduced in 2014.
Extension of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 to town and parish councils
On 13 May 2013, the DCLG announced that it proposed extending the power to submit “barrier busting” proposals under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 to town and parish councils in order to promote localism and engage more people in the democratic process. Having extended that power to town and parish councils on 14 October 2013 and invited these bodies to submit proposals, it will be interesting to see whether town and parish councils exercise the power. Secondary legislation introducing the change is likely to be made in 2014.
Changes to Welsh Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity
Following the Welsh Government’s consultation on proposed changes to the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity on 22 March 2013, it is likely that in 2014 changes will be made to the 2001 version of the Code to exclude annual reports by elected Welsh members from the Code’s operation and add guidance on filing and broadcasting council meetings.
Changes to local government in Wales
Assuming that the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013, which received Royal Assent on 30 July 2013, comes into force in 2014, Welsh local authorities will be able to create joint standards committees and change the structure of local authority audit committees. Further, the structure and functions of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales will be reformed.