Bus, water and power company managers will have to answer to elected councillors for the first time since they were privatised, under new laws.

The plans were introduced in the House of Commons and backed by Birmingham MP Steve McCabe (Lab Hall Green), a Government whip.

Local authorities will gain the right to order local service managers to a scrutiny hearing, where they might be asked to justify poor services, such as overcrowded trains or soaring gas bills.

It will mean they are held to account by councillors who are directly elected by local people.

At the moment, many essential utilities are overseen by an unelected watchdog.

Council scrutiny panels already have the ability to invite managers to attend hearings and answer questions - but attendance is optional and executives can simply refuse to turn up if they like.

The new Overview and Scrutiny Bill will change that and make attendance compulsory.

However, councils will still have very few powers to act if they are unhappy with the responses they receive, apart from publicly expressing their concerns.

Local Government Secretary John Denham said: “Local people should be able to elect councillors who can get back to them on the performance of all local public services, not just the ones run by the council itself. This Bill gives councillors the power to hold all these services to account whether they are provided by other public bodies or private companies delivering public services.

“It will give councils the ability to shine a spotlight on services not delivering for local people and demand action on behalf of their communities to resolve local problems. There should be no hiding place from awkward questions for company bosses about why they are not providing the high quality local public services people are entitled to.”

Ministers said councils would be free to choose which issues to investigate, but they could include concerns about railway station lighting and safety, bus fares or gas and electricity companies digging up roads.

MP Steve McCabe said: “It is right that we are able to hold these important privately-run services to accountable.

“The only reservation I would have is that councils mustn’t be allowed to put the blame for things going wrong on the utilities because they sometimes have some responsibility as well.”