Eric Pickles MP Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be launching the Government’s Localism Bill today, which aims to devolve various powers down to local level. The BBC’s Paul Stainton asks Mr Pickles exactly how that might work in Peterborough, where Neighbourhood Councils have received a less than warm welcome and bank funding for new enterprises is practically non-existent.
Extract: ERIC PICKLES: Hey I’ll tell you what. You ask the questions. I’ll give you an answer. If you don’t like the answer, ask me another question.
PAUL STAINTON: Now the devolving of powers to local communities is being set out later today in a new Government Bill. The Localism Bill, which is designed to cut red tape, means some planning responsibilities will pass from councils to official local groups. Other aspects of the Bill are thought to include a proposal to extend directly elected mayors, as well as powers to end council houses for life. Eric Pickles is the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Morning Eric.
ERIC PICKLES: Good morning. Any changes to council houses won’t affect any existing tenant.
PS: Ok. Fine. Thank you for that. Why do you think people will want to contribute to the running of society? Why should we?
EP: Well they do already do this. This is just going to remove a number of burdens from people, and blockages, that will simply make it a lot easier to do so. And I think a lot of people do want to, when the local shop goes down, or the local pub goes down, or where there’s a redundant community building, would say wouldn’t it be good if we could take this over and run it for the community.
PS: It’s fanciful isn’t it Eric? It’s fanciful. Where are they going to get the skills from? Where are they going to get the money from? No banks are lending money.
EP: Well I suppose we could all be miserable and say well nothing is going to happen.
PS: It’s true.
EP: But of course it isn’t even remotely true, because a lot of communities up and down the land have done this.
EP: I can even think of places in my own constituency in Brentwood where community groups have taken over redundant buildings. So this happens up and down the land.
PS: Where do you get the capital though? Because you go to the bank with a great business plan, and the bank goes, sorry about that. I don’t think so.
EP: Well if there was any scintilla of truth of what you were saying. ..
PS: But it is true.
EP: .. then these ..
PS: Speak to local businesses Eric.
EP: Hey I’ll tell you what. You ask the questions. I’ll give you an answer. If you don’t like the answer, ask me another question.
PS: I’m telling you what local businessmen are telling me.
EP: My answer to your question was this: already they do it. There’s living proof that you’re wrong. Already they do this.
PS: Well I disagree Eric. I think there’s living proof that you’re wrong, from businesses that have been on this show, who say it’s incredibly difficult to get funding. I’m asking you how these people with perhaps not the relevant skills or the relevant business plans are going to go to a bank and get funding to open their local post office again. Where are they going to get the money from?
EP: Well of course we are introducing a Big Society Bank to help local groups to be able to do this. But local groups already do this. Local groups have been doing this for years. It just simply makes it more easy.
PS: Well that’s one good thing. Where do you get the skills from to run these businesses though? The pubs that have gone bust, the post offices that have gone bust, where do the skills come from?
EP: Well I suppose I’ll simply repeat that people are already doing this, and are already successfully doing this, and this Bill just makes it a little easier for them to do it.
PS: All right. This Bill also includes proposals to extend directly elected mayors as well?
EP: It does do, six .. to .. I beg your pardon .. to twelve of the largest cities, but it will be subject to a referendum of the people living within those communities.
PS: Why would directly elected mayors be better for say a city like Peterborough do you think?
EP: I think they would be better because you’d have one person in charge, somebody that would be identified by the public. We’ve seen right across the world, from Chicago to Barcelona, that these kind of individuals are often the catalyst. I was listening to the former Labour Minister Lord Adonis talk about why when he was trying to put together high speed rail, it was very easy to do in London, but there wasn’t the necessary people come to take the decisions when he was dealing with the major cities.
PS: And some planning responsibilities are going to pass from council control to official local groups. Who are they? Official local groups, who are they going to be?
EP: This is very similar .. well .. for the most part they’ll be parish councils. But this is quite similar to what happens already in Germany. There some people can determine what their neighbourhood should look like. And once they’ve determined that, then providing a plan met those criteria, it wouldn’t require separate planning permissions.
PS: So parish councils will decide on some planning issues. Have they got the necessary expertise? We’ve got Neighbourhood Councils in Peterborough, but they’ve been less than successful and they’re doing similar things.
EP: Well I’m very sorry to hear that Neighbourhood Councils in Peterborough are in your estimation a failure. Throughout the rest of the country a lot of Neighbourhood Councils have been a great success.
PS: Well they’ve got no money Eric. They’ve taken the money out of the budgets. They can’t do the job you see.
EP: Well I’m sorry .. it’s a question that comes down to finance ..well of course finance will be available to put together a local neighbourhood plan.
PS: Even less finance later on today when you announce how much councils are going to get. When can we expect those proposals?
EP: I would think, depending on the number of statements this afternoon, probbaly around three thirty. And it will be well within manageable levels for local councils to be able to put it together.
PS: Eric, we’ve got to leave it there. We’re out of time. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He seems to think it’s very easy for us all to get together and raise the cash needed to open the closed post office on the corner of the street there, or to get the pub back open in your village. We could all go to the bank and get the money, according to Eric. Is that right? Am I wrong?