Social work services could be taken over by residents’ groups or council employees under the Localism Bill published by the government today.
The legislation proposes “ending public sector monopolies” to improve services, and giving “every citizen the power to change the services provided to them through participation, choice or the ballot box”.
The bill – which is being seen as crucial to implement the government’s Big Society agenda – would enable community groups, charities and public sector employees given a new right to challenge councils by expressing an interest in running any of their services. Such a move could trigger a procurement process into which other bodies could enter.
The move would apply to social work services, a Department for Communities and Local government spokesman confirmed.
Aguide to the bill published by the department stated: “Our default position is that all public services should be open to diverse provision, with monopoly provision justified on an exceptional basis.”
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said the bill “marks the beginning of a power shift away from central government to the people, families and communities of Britain”.
“The power shift we want will not happen overnight,” he added. “We will face opposition from those with a vested interest in the status quo. But we know that dispersing power is the way to improve our public services and get the better schools and safer hospitals we want.”
Communities secretary Eric Pickles said the bill would herald a “new era of people power”.
“It’s the end of the era of big government: laying the foundations for the Big Society,” he said.
Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), said on his blog that the bill offered “huge opportunities” for charities, social enterprises and community groups.
But he warned that the bill was being introduced against a background of cuts. “So we need to be savvy. If the council has not been able to develop a sustainable business model for running assets we need to be crystal clear our business model will do so,” he said.
Trade union Unite described the bill as a “smokescreen” for cuts.
“This new ‘localism’ is a façade hiding job losses, cuts for services to families and children, and funding inequalities,” said general secretary elect Len McCluskey. “Under the coalition’s new funding formula, wealthy Tory areas, such as Tunbridge Wells, will receive large increases and deprived areas, such as Liverpool and Sunderland, will see a swingeing cut in their grant.”
The bill also promised to end the capping of council tax by central government, with local referenda being used to decide whether large council tax increases should be allowed to proceed.
Councils would also have to reveal their chief officers’ pay and detail every item of expenditure in excess of £500.
Residents will be able to petition to hold a local referendum on any issue and referendums will be held to see if the 12 largest English cities are to have directly elected mayors.
The Localism Bill would also relax councils’ homelessness duties by enabling them to place people accepted as homeless in private rented accommodation against their will, so long as the tenancy was for at least a year.
Currently, people can request to be placed in social housing, and the policy is designed to free up social housing for other tenants and prevent homeless people from spending long periods of time in temporary accommodation awaiting a social home.
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails