17/11/2008

'Wellbeing Power': Forgotten Tool In Tough Economic Times

Councils have not used a legal power that could help their area ride out tough economic times, the Government warned today.

Local Government Minister John Healey, in a letter to council chiefs, urged them to consider using this "wellbeing power" to support their communities during the current economic climate.

New research published today highlights the low take-up of this legal power. The wellbeing power is a general power of competence permitting councils to do anything except raise tax to promote the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of their area. However, while nine out of ten councils are aware of the power, fewer than one in twelve are using it.

Mr Healey said the power could be a key tool for councils to ride out the economic downturn, using it, for example, as a legal cornerstone to invest in improvements to the local area, attracting new businesses and creating new jobs for residents.

As long as the council's actions are in the interest of local wellbeing, the power is available to enable a wide range of actions - saving councils time, avoiding complex legal procedures and cutting red tape. Given to councils in 2000, this "power of first resort" can save councils from checking through numerous different laws, and enables them to focus on achieving their goals, unless it's specifically prohibited by legislation.

Speaking at the County Council Networks conference today, John Healey said: "Councils are already taking the lead helping their communities through these tough economic times. But they aren't making the most of this key tool.

"The wellbeing power could be used to tackle some of the very real problems faced by communities during this economic downturn. Some councils have shown the way, using it to drive investment in their area, get local people into jobs or make savings by delivering more efficient services.

"I'm determined that more of them see this potential. That's why I am writing to all councils today highlighting practical advice that will help them put this key tool to best use."

(JM)

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