Summary and implications

In July 2009, the Department for Communities and Local Government published Strengthening Local Democracy (the "Consultation"). The consultation sought views on:

  • the empowerment of Local Authorities to deliver effective services to their citizens;
  • whether Local Authorities have enough powers to meet the challenges presented by the Government;
  • along with other proposals, ascertaining whether Local Authorities can assist the Government in meeting its carbon emissions targets.

Purpose of the Consultation

The Department for Communities and Local Government describe the purpose behind the 'Strengthening Local Democracy Consultation' as exploring whether 'local government has the powers it needs to meet today's challenges, as part of the Government's drive to renew Britain's democracy and build trust in the political system at all levels.' The Consultation sets out a range of proposals one of which concerns how Local Authorities will tackle climate change.

The Consultation acknowledges that Local Authorities are already attempting to tackle climate change and examines ways that citizens can assist Local Authorities to reach the national carbon emissions targets. Furthermore the Consultation promotes a more active and intrusive role for Local Authorities in reducing carbon and playing a key role in meeting the UK's carbon targets.

Government aims for carbon reduction and the Local Authority's role

Recently the Government launched the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan, the purpose of which was to direct the UK towards a low carbon future and facilitate meeting the targets set for the reduction of emissions. The Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen places an added emphasis on the UK making positive steps towards lowering carbon emissions, placing significant weight behind the Consultation.

Any decisions made by the Government regarding the reduction of carbon emissions will have a fundamental impact at a local level. The Consultation recognises that it will be the Local Authority who drives forward any measures that need to be implemented to reduce carbon emissions. There is also the suggestion that the Local Authority could play a more active economic role. The Low Carbon Industrial Strategy will go some way to creating 'Green Jobs' and allocating funds to various projects aimed at carbon reduction. Furthermore, it is reported that the Consultation envisages Local Authorities playing a significant role in the implementation and operation of low carbon economic areas. The Consultation surmises that Local Authorities are best placed to decide how additional funds allocated for tackling climate change should be applied and therefore should have control over the budgets that are allocated for such initiatives.

Issues addressed by the Consultation

The Consultation recognises that for the Local Authority to have such powers:

  • there needs to be an alteration in public perception of the Local Authority; and
  • further powers need to be granted to them.

With this focus in mind the Consultation puts forward the following questions and proposals that if taken forward intend to alter the perceptions and powers of a Local Authority. The issues are as follows:

  • 'the role of Local Authorities in coordinating funding streams to support low carbon activity in local areas [and the] possibility for greater local influence over the supplier obligation;
  • supporting authorities who wish to offer innovation financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and perhaps even green mortgages;
  • empowering authorities to deliver cost effective and publicly supported infrastructure plans [as well as] the degree of public support that would be needed to establish the case for such schemes;
  • encouraging authorities to consider using their new powers under the Business Rates Supplemental Act 2009 to raise funds to support emissions reductions projects;
  • encouraging authorities to ensure minimum energy efficiency standards for housing;
  • moving planning authorities forward in their thinking about climate change, and to encourage more community engagement to develop locally owned low carbon energy solutions; and
  • helping and challenging Local Authorities make the contribution we are asking from them to deliver the low carbon transport strategy.'

Conclusion

The Consultation has been directed at the public, local authorities, public and private organisations, and voluntary and third sector organisations. It goes on to acknowledge that Local Authorities are often best placed to implement Government proposals and consequently should have more powers to facilitate this. The Consultation also recognises that Local Authorities will play a key role in the implementation of schemes that will reduce carbon emissions. This is vital if the UK wants to meet its carbon emissions targets for 2020.