Monday, 3 February 2014

More ideas for my Eric Pickles challenge

Last Thursday I blogged with a challenge for local government minister Eric Pickles. He is always banging on about ideas that councils could adopt to save money. Some of these are good, some are less so.

I came up with 35 things that the government could do in order to help councils save money. These are simple rules changes that the government could make but which would save local taxpayers thousands or enable councils to bring in more income.

I've had a very good and positive response so far - many thanks to everyone for their feedback. Now I've got a few more ideas to add to the list and would welcome yet more:

36. Allow councils freedom to levy a premium level of council tax on second homes. Although the government has abolished the requirement to give a discount to second home owners (for which we are grateful), we are still not allowed to charge a premium to reflect the fact that second homes often deny housing to local families.

37. Create a planning use class for second and holiday homes. At the moment, there is no control over family homes which are converted to use as second homes or sold to a new owner who will not use the house as a main family residence. This can lead to many communities becoming second home only zones and the consequent loss of local facilities like schools, post offices, pubs and shops. Creating a separate use class means councils would have the power to require change of use planning permission which would help to protect vulnerable communities.

38. Allow local authorities more power to decide how many elected councillors are needed in their area. The precise boundaries should always be set by the independent boundary commission to avoid gerrymandering, but it is wrong that councils cannot influence the number of councillors. At the moment Cornwall has 123 elected members. There are arguments in favour of a reduction and others in favour of the status quo, but we have no power to decide or even to call on the boundary commission to review the number. At a time when budgets all round are being cut, it seems wrong that councillor numbers cannot be considered.

As before, I'm not committed to implementing any of the ideas - and Cornwall Council certainly isn't. But I do think councils should have the power to make up its own mind on issues like this.

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