The government has issued statutory guidance setting out how councils should meet the new duty to respond to all petitions.
Contained in the Local Democracy, Economic Construction and Development Act 2009, the majority of the duty on local authorities will come into force on 15 June 2010. The e-petitions requirement will come into force on 15 December 2010.
Councils will have to set out clearly how local people can submit both paper and electronic petitions. The most popular petitions will also trigger a full council debate or require a senior council officer to answer to scrutiny hearings.
The Department for Communities and Local Government’s guidance particularly focuses on local authorities’ responses to petitions in four areas:
- On under-performing schools: “councils should consider the most effective action including issuing a warning notice to immediately improve standards and could appoint more governors, remove budgets or ultimately consider closure if they fail to comply”
- On alcohol-related crime and disorder: “councils should consider making it an offence to refuse to stop drinking when asked by police, or to charge licensed premises for additional policing”
- On underperforming hospitals: “where communities are concerned about issues like poor hygiene, councils should consider asking their scrutiny committee to investigate, which has powers to review services, request information from NHS bodies, and make urgent recommendations”, and
- On anti-social behaviour: “councils will be expected to consider using the wide range of powers available to them and to work with police on actions such as setting response times for complaints about noise or neighbours”.
Communities Secretary John Denham said: “The changes we are putting into effect today will activate petitions so they hold real sway – people will know it’s worth taking the time to take a stand because it will finally make things happen.
“For the first time, councils will need to respond to petitions and let people know what they’re going to do about underperforming local services.”
The new guidance can be downloaded here.