More power for communities?

Here's a new strand of Commons activity to keep an eye out for: guerrilla ambushes by localist MPs, believers in more powers for communities.

They have plenty of opportunities to chip away at what they see as the overweening centralisation of the British state with amendments to bills and carefully crafted policy ideas.

One such idea emerged at this week's meeting of the Commons Backbench Business Committee, when a posse of high-powered backbenchers - Tories Jesse Norman, Rory Stewart and Simon Hart, plus Lib Dem Tessa Munt - called for a debate on a proposal to allow communities to raise money, via the Council Tax, to fund high-speed broadband connections.

Image caption Jesse Norman is one of the MPs keen to promote local agendas

The group is concerned that the current funding to build a national high-speed network is not enough to ensure that remote villages get the connection they need anytime soon.

So they want those communities to have the power to raise money to build the necessary cable ducts, to industry standard, and then rent them out to broadband providers - who would then be required to use them. The group argues that businesses in remote areas need good broadband access, probably more than businesses elsewhere. And with more and more official business like tax returns and social security applications conducted online, those communities are increasingly disadvantaged without a good connection.

Chamber time

So, they say, given them the option of putting up the money to allow their communities to be connected sooner, rather than later.

No debate was scheduled by the committee, which doesn't have all that much time to allocate at the moment - but nor was the idea rejected. And given the impressive and cross-party cast list of MPs backing the idea, I would be surprised if it did not get a primetime outing in the Chamber fairly soon.

And on the subject of localism, some little-noticed remarks by the junior Communities Minister Brandon Lewis, in a Westminster Hall debate on local government leadership on Wednesday, have caught my eye….

Last year, you'll remember, most big cities rejected the idea of replacing their current council set-up with a powerful elected mayor in referendums held in May (the exception was Bristol, which joined Liverpool and Leicester in the handful of major cities outside London to install a mayor).

Mr Lewis has not been put off. Money quote:

The government, it seems, hasn't quite let go of the mayoral idea - despite the rebuff from the voters last year.

With Nick Clegg trumpeting the government's continued attempts to devolve powers to big cities, with the second wave of the "City Deal" initiative at the Lords Constitution Committee, also on Wednesday, it's clear there is still some enthusiasm in government for beefing up town halls. The localists may be pushing at an open door.

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