Although the Queen’s Speech is unlikely to hold any great legislative surprises, there will be some announcements of great interest to local government.
Local Government Ombudsman
Ministers have already approved the findings of an independent review calling for the creation of a single public services ombudsman for England.
Only limited legislative changes would be required to effect the merger of the Local Government Ombudsman for England with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to create a single point of public redress.
The Deregulation Bill seeks to amend or repeal 182 different pieces of legislation, removing 'unnecessary bureaucracy' for businesses and councils. The Bill also promises freedom for councils from central government diktat and the scrapping of prescriptive requirements for consultation and producing strategies.
It is hoped the Bill will contain measures such as the removal of the housing borrowing cap and licensing reform, as well as ending the legal duty on council to publish statutory notices in local newspapers.
The Wales Bill incorporates the key recommendations of the Silk Commission to give Wales more fiscal autonomy and make the Welsh Government and National Assembly for Wales more accountable for tax-raising.
Under the Bill, the Welsh Government could be handed control over business rates and gain the power to hold a referendum to devolve some income tax.
It is expected the LGA will highlight the ongoing disparity with English local government and the iniquities of the Barnett Formula for allocating funding on a per-head rather than needs basis across the constituent nations of the United Kingdom.
Newspaper reports since April have trailed the possibility of an Infrastructure Bill being included in the Queen’s Speech, containing legislation that would deliver reforms to help speed up economic development.
This could incorporate legislation, as outlined within the Action for Roads command paper, in which the Government pledged to introduce new legislation in 2014 for a stable funding base for investment in roads and legal powers for a reformed Highways Agency. Such a move could herald the transformation of the Highways Agency from a government executive agency to a wholly-owned state company.
More controversially, it has been suggested the Infrastructure Bill could change trespass laws, allowing companies involved in Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) to drill without permission in return for only minimal compensation to landowners.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has raised the political heat on local authority charges in recent months, and found parking has proved an emotive issue which resonates with the public.
Pensions minister Steve Webb is known to want to introduce ‘collective’ pensions arrangements in which employee contributions are pooled and the risks and rewards shared out equally.
This is not thought likely to affect the Local Government Pensions Scheme, which is expected to remain ring-fenced from the changes. Other pensions changes could include giving pensioners the freedom to draw down or as much or as little of their pension pot as they want – without the need to purchase an annuity - as announced by chancellor George Osborne in his 19 March Budget.
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