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"Freedom from bureaucracy is good but let's also make sure we put in place the checks, balances and culture to use it wisely."

Rob Brown, PA Local Government expert

UK councils promised new powers to scrap old bye-laws

Town halls are to be granted the power to scrap outdated bye-laws and create new ones without seeking Whitehall approval.

Local Government Minister Grant Shapps said the move is part of a wider government drive to hand power back to councils. Under the current system, the secretary of state for local government has to rubber stamp any proposals to scrap old bye-laws.

Mr Shapps said the reforms would instead oblige councils to consult with local residents to assess whether a law should be created or consigned to the history books. "For far too long, councils have had to jump through hoops just to get things done for residents," he added. The minister said local authorities around the country still have outdated bye-laws in place. For example, Blackpool Borough Council has regulations from 1887 banning the beating of carpets and the hanging of washing on the promenade.

Elsewhere, Gloucester City Council has already identified 60 rules it wants to remove. These include a 1911 bye-law requiring domestic servants to register with the local authority and one from 1968 governing fish frying and "other offensive trades".

In related news, Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark recently said the coalition aims to drive power and resources "downwards and outwards" to ensure decisions are taken by communities rather than civil servants and councils.

Rob Brown, local government expert at PA Consulting Group comments: “Local government will celebrate any opportunity to simplify bureaucracy but providing freedom to regulate without a clear framework of what this means risks creating a system where local councils can constrain local activities without due deference to national democratic process. Passing such powers to local areas based on what is agreed through consultation is dependent upon a mature relationship with citizens and a culture of democratic engagement.

"This is, as yet, insufficiently developed in the UK. There remains considerable disenfranchisement with the democratic process, and service users find it difficult to understand why one council provides one service free while its neighbour may not provide it at all. Freedom from bureaucracy is good, but let's also make sure we put in place the checks, balances and culture to use it wisely."

To speak to one of our local government experts about clarifying methods of regulation, please contact us now.