Headlines: May 21st, 1999

Councils have been invited to enter a competition for finding centres of local government excellence. Identifying potential candidates is the first move in the Beacon Council Scheme. Applicants will be assessed initially by a team from the Department for Environment Transport and the Regions and the Improvement and Development Agency. Finalists will be decided by an independent advisory panel. Successful councils will retain the status of a Beacon Council until April 2001.

The competition rules specify that councils can base their application on up to three of the following areas: community safety, education, housing, planning, benefit payment and tax collection, social services and sustainable development. Disappointment has been expressed that currently the areas of excellence are limited to the traditional council services and take no account of the major areas of change such as community leadership and integrating strategies with the newly created Regional Development Agencies.

There are incentives for councils to submit themselves to the selection process and to take on the the additional work which will burden the successful councils. In addition to the kudos that Beacon status will bring, the 40 councils selected in the current year will share in a budget of 700,000 pounds. The greatest prize will be in the following year when it is proposed to relax the legal controls which regulate the activities of councils. It is not clear at the moment what freedoms and flexibilities will be on offer.