Book News: January 5th, 2006

This report from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister sets out research findings on how accountability is improving across local government. The independent researchers found that there has been some increase in accountability, especially in relation to taking into account and giving an account. The evidence of accountability improvements in relation to holding to account are less clear, with some instances where accountability has not changed or has decreased. There is little evidence of changes to levels of ‘redress’.There are high and increasing levels of engagement with key stakeholder organisations, and this is more pronounced than involvement with the general public. Officers perceive that local authorities are explaining their decisions more effectively to stakeholders, service users and residents than three years ago. However, residents, who report problems in relation to councils’ ability to communicate information do not share this view. Demands from residents were identified as a key external driver by officers, possibly arising from the greater use of consultation and ‘taking into account’ mechanisms.

Accountability is now a higher priority for councils than three years ago. The accountability of senior managers has increased to a greater extent than that of elected members and frontline staff. Leadership by members and officers has been a particularly important internal driver for accountability improvements.

There are weaknesses in the accountability of partnerships, but local authorities are taking a lead in ensuring that Local Strategic Partnerships have enhanced accountability. A key conflict of accountability concerns the tension between traditional representative forms of accountability and more deliberative forms, such as duties to engage and consult with the public.

The report is available at: http://www.odpm.gov.uk/embedded_object.asp?id=1162543