A thousand people, including Conservative leader David Cameron and Liberal leader Sir Menzies Campbell, packed out a Westminster rally last week in support of a bill designed to save Britain’s high streets.

The Sustainable Communities Bill is a private member’s bill, tabled by Conservative MP Nick Hurd, which aims to give more power to communities so they can make decisions about local issues, such as helping local bakery shops, post offices and pubs. Local Government Minister Phil Woolas said at the rally that he would not try to block the bill when it is debated for a final time in the House of Commons in May.

A spokesman for LocalWorks, the lobby group behind the campaign, said there is still a danger that the government would ’talk out’ the bill by not tabling enough time for it to be discussed, despite cross-party support of over 400 MPs, as well as the backing of dozens of industry associations.

Speaking at the rally, David Cameron urged individuals to use local services and shops. He said: "Local councils should be able to spend according to local priorities, not those set by Whitehall. Local people shouldn’t just control services by local government. They should have a say over all the government spend in their area. Money is crucial, but this is not just about who spends our cash. It’s about a revolution in responsibility. It’s about local people working together."

Shocking decline

According to the BBC, Sir Menzies said: "The shocking decline of local communities - ghost town Britain - is going on everywhere. I share people’s anger at seeing local services and facilities like post offices, bank branches and local businesses disappear. People feel powerless to stop this. We don’t want Whitehall to control our lives. The Sustainable Communities Bill will give people real power over policies affecting their own areas."

A Department of Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "We support the aspirations of the bill, and recognise its underlying concerns and ambitions. We are committed to promoting sustainable local communities and we have already delivered an ambitious programme of measures to do so."

The Local Works campaign started in 2002, following the publication of two reports by the New Economics Foundation, entitled Ghost Town Britain and Clone Town Britain. These looked into the declining number of independent shops on the high street and the impact this is having on local communities.

The Local Works spokesman told British Baker that the bill needs as much support as possible to get it through its final reading. "It is currently at committee stage after two successful readings, but the only reason it has got this far is because of the huge support it has received," he said. "I urge your readers to go to our website, [http://www.localworks.org], and sign up in support."

If the bill is passed in May, it will become law by the summer and the government will have to make provision for its implementation before the year is out, he said. n