A selection of images representing communities.
There is a long tradition of petition writing in the UK. Signing a petition is a simple way for members of the public to call for action, and is the most popular civic activity in the Citizenship Survey. Petitions allow people to come together to call for action - for instance, for empty properties to be dealt with, for the ownership of a building to be transferred to the community, or for local spending priorities to be decided by local people.
While petitions are a popular form of civic activism, a 2007 Local Government Association survey found that less than a third of local authorities guarantee a response to petitions. Further research by Communities and Local Government highlighted that even fewer local authorities make details about how to submit a petition publicly available.
The Government's view is that local people are more likely to participate in matters affecting their community if they are sure that their views will be listened to. In particular, they are more likely to organise or sign a petition if they are confident that it will be treated seriously, and that a response is guaranteed. Evidence from a systematic review of petitions reveals that petitions have the potential to empower individuals, to generate activity at the community level, and to impact on decision making.
Government has therefore included a duty on local authorities to respond to petitions in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. The Act provides that people in all areas of England and Wales will be guaranteed a response from their council to both electronic and paper petitions. And if citizens can get the number of signatures specified in their council's petitions scheme, they will be guaranteed a public, full council debate on their concerns. If the petition organiser does not believe the council's response to their petition is adequate, they will have a new right to ask the overview and scrutiny committee to review the response.
The core elements of the petitions duty will come into effect on 15 June 2010. The e-petitions requirements will come into force on 15 December 2010. Statutory guidance to support the petitions duty was published 30 March 2010 and can be found by following the link below.
An order has been made excluding a number of matters from the petitions duty and setting the maximum threshold which local authorities can set for petitions to trigger a full council debate. A copy of this order, which links to an accompanying explanatory memorandum, can be found on the right hand side of this page.
Councillor Call for Action, introduced under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, will give councillors a new right to raise matters of local concern with their council's overview and scrutiny committee - the committee of councillors that is responsible for scrutinising the council's executive.
Councillor Call for Action came into force on 1 April 2009. A sector led best practice guide, produced by the Improvement and Development Agency, in conjunction with the Centre for Public Scrutiny, can be found by following the link below. An order has been made excluding a number of matters from the Councillor Call for Action. A copy of this order, which links to an accompanying explanatory memorandum, can be found on the right hand side of this page.