The snap general election called by Theresa May on Tuesday looks set to derail the progress of significant chunks of the Government’s legislative program. In two weeks’ time, this Parliament will be dissolved. During this ‘wash-up’, it will be agreed which of the current bills will get onto the statute book and in what form. Emma Norris from the Institute for Government has written a hugely informative article looking at how this might play out. For those of us with an interest in cities and their economies, there are three bills in particular whose fate will have a significant impact for the new mayors and local authorities:
Bus Services Bill
Agreed by Lords and Commons but amendments being negotiated. Returns to Commons on 25th April, leaving a week before Parliament finishes on 2nd May.
As we said last year, the Bus Services Bill provides an opportunity for cities to regain the powers they once had – and that London never lost – to run their local bus services. These powers would make an immediate difference and demonstrate what devolution can deliver for voters. If it is delayed or diluted in any way, the new mayors elected on 4th May, already constrained by a three-year first term, will find themselves with relatively few tangible levers to pull before May 2020. The Bill allows mayors and combined authorities to set the routes, frequencies and quality standards that they determine will best support their residents and firms and reduce the complexity and cost that passengers face. The other powers the mayors will have – over skills, housing, planning – will take longer to be felt and are not as easily attributable to the mayor or Combined Authority. Giving councils the power to set up their own municipal bus companies has been a bone of contention throughout its passage so far, and may prove a stumbling block in getting the Bill agreed before 2nd May.
Digital Economy Bill
Final amendments made during third reading. Will now go to Commons for consideration of Lords amendments. Not yet scheduled.
The Digital Economy Bill will help us to understand in far more detail, and in a more timely manner, what is going on in local economies. It will allow data sharing between different parts of the public sector, including administrative data. This will help fill the data gap that exists at the local level compared to national level. Good policymaking relies on good data, and if newly devolved powers are to be used most effectively by city leaders, then better data at sub-national level is vital to accurately identify the issues they face and measure the effectiveness of the policies they develop. As the impacts of Brexit are likely to vary greatly across the country, having this data as soon as possible is even more pressing.
Local Government Finance Bill
Still needs to be considered at Report Stage and Third Reading. There is little prospect of the bill making progress in the time remaining.
The Local Government Finance Bill was set to give councils 100 per cent control of business rates locally. Business Rates has been a hot potato recently, with the delayed revaluation causing the Government a serious headache that had to be bought off at the Budget. Trying to make a 100 per cent retained system that is fair but also incentivises growth has taxed many great minds under the current fixed yield system. After the trouble business rates have so far caused this government, it’s unclear what a future Theresa May-led Government’s appetite will be on bringing this bill back.
With the general election already (rightfully) overshadowing a set of mayoral elections starved of sunlight, the abrupt halt to the legislative process could see the new mayors arrive in office without the tools they could have expected. They should make their first action as a group to press the Government to push on again with any of these Bills that don’t make it through ‘wash-up’ unscathed.