In a boost for modernising local government, councils will be invited to apply for ‘beacon status’ in April 1999. It is expected that about 40 applicants will be successful and the winners declared in October 1999. Ministers will select the winning councils on the basis of advice from an independent advisory panel. Shortlisted councils will be visited to assess their performance and their ability to spread good practice to other councils. Winners will include all the different types of councils and all geographical areas will be represented. The award process will be repeated each year. The scheme is in effect, a Charter Mark for local government.
The move is designed to stimulate innovation, promote an holistic approach to solving problems, encourage cross boundary and partnership working and ensure that the pace of change is set by the best councils.
Competing councils will have to demonstrate excellence in community safety, education, housing, modernising planning and service delivery, improving housing and council tax benefit administration, social services and sustainable development. Different areas may be selected for future years.
The programme to spread best practice will be co-ordinated by the newly created Local Government Improvement and Development Agency. The message from the beacon councils will be taken to the others through conferences, seminars, workshops publications, open days and through making staff available for secondments.
In addition to the public acclaim is expected to flow from becoming a beacon on the local government landscape, there will be longer term benefits. Test beds are required to experiment with new freedoms and flexibilities and it is likely that only those councils that have achieved the new status will be selected for trial runs.