COMMUNITY leaders in the Staffordshire Moorlands fear they could be banned from campaigning on behalf of residents against large housing developments, hospital closures and cuts to organisations including the police and fire services.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has said that plans proposed by the Government pose a threat to local democracy and could stop councils from acting on behalf of their residents.
Independent legal advice published by the body states that council campaigns, driven by local opinion and often run in partnership with community groups, could be banned under the proposals.
These include those against projects such as the HS2 rail link, large housing developments, cuts to police and fire services, hospital closures and the proliferation of betting shops.
Staffordshire Moorlands MP Karen Bradley stressed the plans, due to be debated in Parliament this week as part of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill, were to stop councils spending taxpayers’ money on promoting themselves.
But Conservative district councillor for Horton, Norma Hawkins, insisted that if the go-ahead was given there would be little need for elected members as they would have no say on behalf of residents.
She said: “I am ashamed that Conservatives, who I have represented as a councillor, are considering taking away elected members’ power and those of the public.
We are elected representatives and have a duty to campaign on people’s behalf. Now they want us to stop when it’s our job to listen to the people who put us in office.” Leader of the Moorlands Democratic Alliance, Councillor Linda Malyon, said: “What happened to Localism and the Big Society raved about by David Cameron? “This is a load of rubbish and we will lose most of our democracy. People elect councillors to represent them and voice their opinion.
“This would stop us. We all must stand up to this and protest against it.” Conservative councillor Edwin Wain, who represents the Hamps Ward, said: “We are organising a meeting now over the University Hospital, which could have to take in more patients.
"We are elected to represent the people. We can’t be told what we should do.” Former leader of the district council, Ron Locker, said: “This has gone for a second reading in the Commons, so the Government wants it to go-ahead.
“People fought for democracy. The people who thought this up have got it so wrong. It should never even have been discussed.
“How can people work for their communities? We can’t take this lying down.” Former Labour MP, Charlotte Atkins, said: “This is all about clamping down on communities who protest about Government cutbacks “The idea of democratic representatives being unable to speak out on issues that concern people is a gagging order. We are in danger of becoming a state-run Government where people can’t express their views.” Sir Merrick Cockell, LGA chairman, said: “Councils have a legitimate, local, democratic mandate. They have a proud history of campaigning on behalf of their residents who rightly look to them to unite communities and stand up for their best interests.
“That might often be inconvenient for central Government, but a community being able to fight for or against unpopular or controversial proposals affecting their area is a key part of democracy.
“This independent legal advice also confirms our fears that a government could hand power to one individual in Whitehall to restrict councils from campaigning on important issues.
“To simply make it easier for Government to ignore the views of communities is unacceptable, sets a dangerous precedent and will mean local areas and residents will suffer as a result.
“The Government needs to see sense and withdraw these ill-thought out proposals.” However Moorlands MP Karen Bradley said that the LGA had misunderstood the implications of the policy.
She said: “The publicity code is being debated in Parliament as part of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill. The LGA has misunderstood the implications.
“It is aimed at stopping councils using taxpayers’ money to promote themselves, and getting them instead to spend that money on providing services. I am sure the LGA will be reassured when they listen to the debate this week.”